Pennsylvania drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret.


Anyone interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil patch historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.

Oil prices plunged in 1882 when production from a single Pennsylvania well was finally revealed. Oil production from the well drilled on lot 646 in the wilderness of Cherry Grove Township, Warren County, had been a closely guarded secret.

Image "Guarding a Wildcat Well," 1883, from The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, courtesy Raymond P. Sorenson.

Image “Guarding a Wildcat Well,” 1883, from The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, courtesy Raymond P. Sorenson.

Rumors of a major oil discovery came at a time when markets were already oversupplied by the nearby Bradford field, the first giant U.S. oilfield. Widespread speculation about the well’s production influenced oil prices, according to geologist and historian Raymond Sorenson.

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“Numerous operators and marketers sent personnel to watch the well on 646, leading to the development of oil scouting as a recognized profession,” Sorenson noted during a 2012 presentation to geologists. He added that in 1882 his grandfather celebrated his first birthday less than two miles from the Lot 646 Mystery Well.

Wooden derrick and museum preserve 1882 oil history of Cherry Grove, PA.

Dedicated volunteers at a small Pennsylvania community annually celebrate “the great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove” every June.

Even the best oilfield detective work of early oil scouts were initially stymied at Cherry Grove.

Owners of the lot 646 well had quietly secured nearby leases before word began to spread about the May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day.

The true oil production news about the “mystery well,” operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. “The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained historian Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 The Birth of the Oil Industry.

“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” Giddens proclaimed in his classic historical account. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

Bus tour the "mystery well" site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

Visitors annually tour the “mystery well” site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

According to Giddens, the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove the price down to less than 50 cents per barrel. It brought an early financial crisis for the young U.S. petroleum industry.

Despite the collapse of oil prices, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove — and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted.

Historian Sorenson’s reseqarch discovered that that in the first 22 years after the first U.S. oil well on 1859, there had been 30 wells that reported flow rates greater than 1,000 barrels of oil per day. Between May 17 and August 1,
1882, Cherry Grove alone had 48 wells daily producing more than 1,000 barrels of oil.

14oth Anniversary of Cherry Grove

Although short lived, the drilling boom deserves to be remembered, according to dedicated volunteers of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which for decades has hosted petroleum history events every June.

“Before the railroad could lay a new line to Cherry Grove, the boom went bust,” noted Walt Atwood, president of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day, in 2012. “Thousands of people moved on. Those who remained kept the memory of the Oil Excitement alive with reunions that became known as Old Home Day.”

According to Atwood, in 1982 a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a “life-size 1882-style oil derrick and shanty” for the historic 646 Mystery Well’s centennial celebration.

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Volunteers worked with township supervisors to raise funds and bring a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps. The volunteers reunited in 2007 for the 125th anniversary to rebuild the 646 Mystery Well replica.

The 2022 celebration, “the 140th Anniversary of the Great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania,” took place in mid-June with events at the replica derrick behind the Cherry Grove Fire Hall, 6045 Cherry Grove Road (State Road 2001), southwest of Clarendon.

Cherry Grove volunteers have since continued to “to keep the history alive” in their oil patch community.

The 1882 Pennsylvania well has been studied by geologist Sorenson, and described in his April 10, 2012, presentation, “Cherry Grove Field, Warren County, Pennsylvania: The Lot 646 Mystery Well and Its Aftermath,” given to the Tulsa Geological Society.

Sorenson adapted his presentation into a paper for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). He also has continued to research the earliest descriptions of oil worldwide — learn more in Earliest Signs of Oil.


Recommended Reading:  Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pa., Images of America (2000); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member today and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherry Grove Mystery Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: May 13, 2023. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.


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