Pennsylvania drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret.
Summer travelers interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.
Oil prices plunged in 1882 when oil production from a single Pennsylvania well was revealed. The well’s true – and at that time massive – oil production had been a closely guarded secret in a small, Warren County township. Even the best oil scouts had been stymied at Cherry Grove.
As the well’s owners quietly secured nearby leases, word finally spread about a secret May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day. “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 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry.
The sudden news about the mystery well, operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. The nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 25 years old. “The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” notes the historical account by Giddens. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”
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.
Celebrating Cherry Grove
It was short lived, according to the dedicated modern volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has hosted many special petroleum history events on the last Sunday of 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.”
In 1982 and again in 2007, a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a replica of the 646 Mystery Well. The volunteers worked with the township supervisors to secure grants and bring in a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.
The Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day annual oil patch event is open to the public with no admission fee. “Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” Atwood proclaimed.
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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherry Grove Mystery Well.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/mystery-well-of-cherry-grove. Last Updated: May 11, 2020. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.