Drake Well vintage line drawing. (c) – Stock.Adobe.com

Pieces of the Past: First Oil . . . and an Apology

August 30, 2023

There have been a lot of firsts in Warren County. Even more seconds and thirds that had a global impact. In the late 1850’s Warren County was “bubbling under.”

After nearly 20 years of effort, by Thomas Struthers and others, the railroad rolled into town. In 1859 Warren was now or soon to be connected to the rest of the world. Almost simultaneously, Edwin Drake’s well came online. That led to speculation. Speculators guessed if there was oil in Titusville, Tidioute, just 15 miles away, most certainly had oil too! Enter a guy named J.L. Grandin.

Grandin was working in his father’s store at the time in Tidioute. He knew about an oil spring on the Campbell farm. Putting 2 and 2 together, Grandin bought the farm. History books report that Native Americans would often collect oil from streams and ponds using blankets to sop up the slime. Drake proved you could get more oil by drilling for it. Grandin was determined to match Drake and get Warren County into the oil business. He made a deal with H.H. Dennis, a skilled blacksmith, and tinkerer, to create the tools necessary. In 1859 there were no hardware stores to run to. In fact, the things needed really hadn’t been invented yet! H.H. Dennis was faced with inventing a drill, even the pipe to build the well.

There were problems making the drilling rig. More problems trying to figure out how to pump the green gold out of the ground. Yes! Pennsylvania crude comes from plants and in its purest form, it has a deep green cast to it! Dennis and Grandin traveled to Titusville to get a good look at Drake’s operation. What had already happened by then was that Drake had boarded up the well and placed armed guards around it. Grandin and Dennis were on their own.

Well……..the Grandin Well was dry! The oil business is not a sure thing. Even with today’s technology, there is still a lot of guesswork. Grandin went on and managed to hit oil. He left behind an opera house in Tidioute that served as a central meeting place, theatre, and office building. The Grandin Opera House lasted just about 100 years. It along with Grandin’s well are pieces of the past.


I’d like to apologize to my readers for an error in the ” Local Connections” Piece of the Past. David K. Dean of Erie designed the Struthers Library Theatre. The firm of Warren and Wetmore was involved in the 1919 renovation. Warren and Wetmore also were involved with the Warren Library building in 1916. Thanks to Jenn Knisley and the staff at Warren Public Library for their help.

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