Parades, equipment exhibits, wrench-throwing contests, chili cook-offs, and other events celebrate historic discoveries.
It’s summertime and visiting oil history is easy (2020 excepted).
Take a summer vacation into America’s historic “oil patch.” Have fun and learn some petroleum history by visiting a host of U.S. oilfield communities, their museums and annual festivals.
In addition to maintaining an updated list of museums, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society draws attention to many big and small cities – and their annual festivals celebrating an industry that helped make them (and the United States) prosper since August 1859.
This list of community events – a work in progress – may not include all petroleum-related celebrations. Visit the community museum links for insights into local festivals and oil shows in your state. Please contact AOGHS to add one here!
Among the biggest oil patch festivals that take place in Texas, the “Crude Fest” just outside of Midland is one of the premier music festivals in West Texas, “featuring some of the biggest names from the Texas Red Dirt Country music genre,” declares its organizers. Begun in 1999, the three-day festival has grown every year. Before or after the music extravaganza and BBQ competitions, visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.
Whether visiting a large city or small town, here are some oil patch museums and festivals to check out on the road this summer:
Residents of western New York celebrate the Empire State’s earliest petroleum heritage by supporting an oil museum in Bolivar and hosting an annual festival every June. The Triangle No. 1, the first commercial well in Allegany County, was completed in nearby Petrolia on June 12, 1879. Orville P. Taylor, known as the “father of the Allegany oilfield,” drilled the historic well.
Bolivar’s four-day celebration includes a staggering number of activities: banquets, a fireman’s dance at the Bolivar Fire Hall, a talent show, inductions to the new “Wall of Fame” at the oil museum, a tractor pull, and a local history scavenger hunt, and related special events (a Strawberry Shortcake and Sundae Festival). Pioneer Oil Days, which began in 1999, is a project of the Bolivar Lions Club.
The long-time director of the Pioneer Oil Museum, Kelly Lounsberry, also is an elementary school teacher. He has been a big part of the growing oil museum, which educates area young people about the energy industry. Thanks to donations and a dedicated group of volunteers (many retired oilmen), the museum continues to expand, he notes. “Preliminary plans have begun for the construction of a new building that will be used to house antique oilfield equipment, some of it (hopefully) in working condition.”
For a little-known tale about the region’s oil history, see Oil in the Land of Oz.
Usually held the third week in June since 1971 at Broadway and 10th Street in Smackover, Arkansas, the “Smackover Oil Town Festival” has featured free concerts, arts and crafts, a drill bit toss, pipe tote, horseshoe pitching, arm wrestling, turtle races, bingo, dog shows, rod wrenching, a rib cook-off, 5k Oil Run “and the world famous yellow duck race down No Name Creek.”
The first oil festival was sponsored by Smackover Chamber of Commerce and The Lions’ Club to celebrate a discovery well, the Richardson No. 1, which erupted from 2,066 feet deep on July 1, 1922. The oilfield covered more than 25,000 acres.
The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources opened in 1986 in the midst of the historic Smackover field and one mile south of Smackover. Although the museum represents all of Arkansas’s natural resources, it is dedicated to the pioneers of south Arkansas’s oil and brine industries. Learn more of the state’s history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.
Also in June – if on vacation anywhere near Tulsa, Oklahoma, don’t miss visiting Glenpool, which annually celebrates its petroleum heritage during “Black Gold Days.” The festival honors the local Glenn Pool oilfield. “Discovered in 1905, it created numerous oil and oil related companies that helped the city prosper. Black Gold Days is known for its lineup of music performers including bluegrass, gospel, rock and country. It also features a parade, carnival, fireworks display and food vendors.”
Learn more Glenn Pool history in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.
When visiting scenic West Virginia (an early oil-producing state), true oil patch historians should look into the Benedum Festival at Bridgeport City Park. When held, it honors “The Great Wildcatter” Michael Late Benedum. Considered the modern day founder of Bridgeport, he spent 70 years in the oil industry, explains event organizers.
“He retained a lifelong affection for West Virginia, Bridgeport, Clarksburg and Harrison County, which he expressed through many philanthropic projects, including the restoration and beautification of Bridgeport Cemeteries, construction of a new Methodist Church, and a Civic Center for the citizens of Bridgeport, located at the site of the home where he was born and raised,” notes organizers. The festival recently added an an “Oil & Gas Expo.”
“We will definitely be exhibiting the spirit of Michael Benedum by inviting local oil and gas producers to participate,” the website notes. “The oil and gas producers will submit five-man teams – their ‘Roughnecks,’ if you will – to compete against teams in challenges such as archery tag, sled pull, tug-o-war, mechanical bull competition and more.”
In Pennsylvania, the Coolspring Power Museum hosts “History Day and Car, Truck & Tractor Show” every July. Volunteers throughout the museum buildings and grounds to give presentations on the history of many engines in the museum along with the history of the museum itself.
“They will explain when and where the engines were built and what they were used for,” according to Director Paul E. Harvey, who co-founded the museum in 1985 near Punxsutawney.
“Many engines will be running throughout the day, with a scheduled start-up for the larger engines. Engineers will explain how they start an engine and answer any questions,” Harve adds. “Volunteers will be on hand to show you why the Coolspring Power Museum has the finest antique engine collection in the world.”
Read more about this fascinating museum in Cool Coolspring Power Museum.
Located between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the community of Drumright (and nearby Cushing) have enjoyed a Summer Oil Patch Festival hosted by Dick and Myrna Sellers. Check ahead to see if the Oklahoma businessman and his wife will open the gates of their ranch just outside of Drumright for the festival.
Past Summer Oil Patch Festivals have featured all-day music from talented musicians, magicians, helicopter landings, a children’s play area, skydivers and more. “Bring the whole family to Sellers Ranch and take part in the free festivities where you can get a heaping helping of Oklahoma barbecue and watch the extensive fireworks display after dark.” Visit the Drumright Historical Society Museum.
First held in 1978, the “Annual Oil Heritage Festival” in Oil City, Pennsylvania, every July proudly honors the area’s rich heritage that resulted from the discovery of petroleum and the “oil boom” that occurred along Oil Creek in the mid-1800s, explains the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The Annual Oil Heritage Festival depicts our distinctive heritage by incorporating many heritage related events into one of Western Pennsylvania’s major festivals…a fun-filled festival draws thousands of visitors and guests to the region each year,” notes the chamber’s website. “In that oil fueled the Industrial Revolution and the modernization of America’s transportation industry, our region is often referred to as the valley that changed the world.”
Oil City boasts many historic oil patch attractions and museums, including the Venango Museum of Art, Science & Industry.
In Healton, Oklahoma, the “Healdton Oil Field Days” every August began 40 years ago to celebrate the town’s extensive petroleum heritage. Residents and visitors “celebrate the days when Carter County was at the center of it all,” notes KTEN-TV of Texoma.
“This annual celebration on the streets of Healdton is now full of future generations paying tribute to the city’s heritage,” the station reports. “The opening of the Healdton oil field in 1913 was at the forefront of one Oklahoma’s greatest oil booms. It established southern Oklahoma as a major petroleum producing area. This annual celebration on the streets of Healdton is now full of future generations paying tribute to the city’s heritage.”
The oil that’s produced in Healdton continues to be distributed in Carter County at the Valero oil refinery in Ardmore. Be sure to visit the Healdton Oil Museum. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Visitors to the Drake Well Museum along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, can tour a replica of the Edwin Drake’s cable-tool derrick and steam-engine house among other outdoor exhibits.Every August, the small town that gave both to America’s petroleum industry in 1859 celebrates its historic discovery.
The “Titusville Oil Festival” features day-long activities that attract visitors from across northwestern Pennsylvania and beyond. It includes a popular antique car show, according to the Titusville Chamber of Commerce.
Edwin L. Drake used a steam engine and cable-tool drilling rig to drill his famous well, which produced oil on August 27, 1859. He pioneered new drilling technologies, including a method of driving an iron pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore.
Visitors also can visit the Drake Well Museum, a monument dedicated to him in 1901 in Woodlawn Cemetery, and the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, which provides scenic tours of the nation’s first oil region. Read more in First American Oil Well.
Among the oldest and most popular oil and gas related festivals in the country, the “Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival” is the state’s first chartered festival. Beginning in 1936 in Morgan City – and including the annual crowning of its first queen – the event traditionally takes place over Labor Day weekends.
“Last year’s Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival in Morgan City saw attendance levels reach 140,000 people and made an economic impact of $8.5 million in St. Mary Parish,” reported KATC-TV, citing a study by the Hospitality Research Center and the University of New Orleans.
The study found the 2015 festival is expected to generate a total of $800,000 in tax revenues for the state and local governments. The majority of visitors are repeat attendees.
Held in downtown Morgan City, guided tours visit the historic offshore drilling rig “Mr. Charlie,” where visitors can walk aboard an authentic offshore drilling rig that is also used as a hands-on, live-aboard training facility.
Since 1968, the “West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival” in Sistersville has honored the petroleum industry’s, past, present and future, with food, entertainment, a pretty baby contest, engine displays, Kids Day, Horseshoe pitching contest, crafts, commercial booths, car shows, parade and Band-a- Rama.
The festival, which usually takes place in September, began as a small event in Tyler County organized by the local Jaycees to honor oil and gas industry members. The Lions Club sponsored for a number of years before an independent board of directors took over. It size and scope has varied in recent years.
“An Oil and Gas Festival queen pageant and the honoring of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Man of the Year are two of the highlights of the festival,” reports the West Virgina Department of Commerce. “The event also features a Grand Oil and Gas Trophy Parade, art shows and exhibits, quality regional crafts, a wide variety of food vendors, musical entertainment and an amateur talent contest.”
Not far from Sistersville and also along the Ohio River, the outstanding Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia, includes four floors of petroleum equipment and other rare oil patch articles.
Of course there are other community festivals, especially during the December holiday season in historic East Texas oil towns like Kilgore, Tyler and Lufkin. Also in Texas – every April since 1976 – the community of Corsicana hosts visitors to its “annual ode to Texas’ first oil boom.” Corsicana events have included a street dances, parades – and the popular charity fundraising event, the “Derrick Days Chili Cook-Off.”
The 1894 Corsicana oilfield was the first Texas petroleum boom – and the first west of the Mississippi River. The first oil refinery in Texas was built in 1897. By 1898 there were 287 producing wells in the Corsicana oilfield alone.
Know of other petroleum heritage events? Please contact AOGHS with any details.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.