Muddy Creek Oil Field

Just north of Prospect, Daniel Shanor found oil on his farm in early 1890. Horse-drawn carts hauled the crude oil to a refinery in East Butler. Shanor’s neighbors followed suit and soon oil wells dotted farms along Big Run, a small tributary that flowed from the present-day Big Butler Fairgrounds into Muddy Creek.

Oil was a necessary part of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Petroleum replaced whale oil, which became more expensive and more difficult to obtain by the middle of the century. The oil boom following Edwin Drake’s 1859 success near Titusville spread to Butler County in less than twenty years. Several successful oil fields had already been established near Connoquenessing and in the newly-named Petroleum Valley. These oil fields (and others) allowed Butler County to become the world leader in oil production in the late 19th century. The relatively shallow wells were originally dug by hand or with a foot-powered spring drill. Later, steam-powered drills fueled by natural gas replaced spring drills.

By April 1891, six wells, powered by large Bessemer engines, produced over 125 barrels of crude per day. Oil companies installed a series of pipelines that crossed the Muddy Creek Valley to streamline delivery to refineries. Crude was stored in a large tank on Whippoorwill Hill Road (currently Christley Road) and transported in bulk. At the field’s height, each well produced up to ten barrels per day. Estimates vary between 250 and 350 active wells at the turn of the century.

The boom also brought its own problems. The oil fields were dangerous. In September 1890, the Butler Citizen reported that a digger asphyxiated on “fool [foul] air” while trying to deepen a well. The boom economy was inherently unstable and the bubble was already on the verge of collapse. Despite the higher grade of Pennsylvania oil, more effective extraction technologies and cheaper, more plentiful crude in other areas all but collapsed the Butler County oil industry within a generation. Production slowed but remained steady until the 1950s, when the Commonwealth proposed that the valley would be converted to a state park as part of Secretary Maurice Goddard’s vision of a state park within twenty-five miles of every Pennsylvanian.

Well #19 on the Marshall-Barr site was reserved as a potential exhibit of the Muddy Creek field’s heyday. The well was abandoned for over forty years. In the 1990s, volunteers, assisted by local and state-level organizations, cleaned and restored the site. The Marshall-Barr well opened in August 2000 during the Lake Arthur Regatta with a demonstration of the original Bessemer engine and period-accurate well pumps. Currently, the site and adjacent museum are maintained by the Moraine McConnell’s Mill Jennings Commission (3MJC) and open to the public on selected days May through October.

Images

Contemporary Photo

Contemporary Photo

Farmers standing in front of an oil well in western Pennsylvania. The location of this photo is not known but is similar to the Muddy Creek Oil Field. | Source: Courtesy of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area View File Details Page

Present Day

Present Day

Panoramic view of the oil field exhibit. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Present Day

Present Day

rolling power mill house, beltway, engine house, water tower (l to r) | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Present Day

Present Day

A view of the flywheel and belt to the rolling power mill. The Bessemer engine's flywheel drives the rolling power mill which controls the pump jacks in the field. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Present Day

Present Day

The rolling power mill could control 17 pump jacks, each up to a mile away. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

1964 Topographical Map

1964 Topographical Map

The Muddy Creek Oil Field is outlined in orange. During construction of Lake Arthur, US 422 and PA 528 were realigned. | Creator: United States Geographical Survey View File Details Page

Before Restoration

Before Restoration

The engine house was rusted and nearly overgrown. | Source: Courtesy of Marshall-Barr Site Museum | Creator: 3MJC View File Details Page

Before Restoration

Before Restoration

The rolling power mill house is nearly unrecognizable. | Source: Courtesy of Marshall-Barr Site Museum | Creator: 3MJC View File Details Page

Advertisement

Advertisement

An advertisement for the Bessemer engine similar to the one currently used at the Marshall-Barr site exhibit. | Source: Oil Region Reminiscences. View File Details Page

Local News

Local News

The state of oil production in far-off Franklin Township often made the social pages of Butler's newspapers. | Source: Butler Citizen View File Details Page

Local News

Local News

In addition to reporting new discoveries, newspapers also covered deaths of field workers like Frank Millison. | Source: Butler Citizen View File Details Page

Local News

Local News

The state of oil production in far-off Franklin Township often made the social pages of Butler's newspapers. | Source: Butler Citizen View File Details Page

Contemporary Photo

Contemporary Photo

A western Pennsylvania oil field, exact location unknown | Source: Courtesy of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area View File Details Page

Video

Video

The rolling power mill (housed to the right) pulls and pushes arms to work the pump jacks at the Marshall-Barr Site. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Video

Rods from the rolling power mill control up to 17 pumpjacks at a time, reducing the need for expensive engines in oil fields. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Video

The original Bessemer engine at the Marshall-Barr site still works and remains on display in the restored engine house. | Creator: Amy Brunner View File Details Page

Access Information:

If exhibit is not open, please park in lot near Old 422 Pier because the remainder of Park Road is closed to vehicles. Walk approximately 1/2 mile north on Park Road, the oil well is on the right past Muskrat Cove Camping Area.

Cite this Page:

Amy Brunner, “Muddy Creek Oil Field,” Butler County Historical, accessed November 14, 2018, http://butlerhistorical.org/items/show/43.

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