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. 

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 Raymond Sorenson.

“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 in 2012.

But even the best detective work of early oil scouts were initially stymied at Cherry Grove.

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.

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 nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 23 years old.

“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 noted the 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.

Celebrating Cherry Grove Oil

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.”

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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.

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 latest annual celebration — “the 140th Anniversary of the Great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania” — is set for Saturday, June 18, 2022, with free events to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the replica well behind the Cherry Grove Fire Hall, 6045 Cherry Grove, Road (State Road 2001), southwest of Clarendon.

“Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” explain organizers of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.

Learn more about the historic 1882 Pennsylvania well in geologist and historian Ray Sorenson’s presentation, “Cherry Grove Field, Warren County, Pennsylvania: The Lot 646 Mystery Well and Its Aftermath,” given to the Tulsa Geological Society on April 10, 2012, and adapted into a paper for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).


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 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 © 2022 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 15, 2022. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.


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