Pithole, Pennsylvania: Oil Boom Ghost Town

Following its recent use in a reference request, the title The History of Pithole by Charles C. Leonard, has been digitized and published online. It is now available to read or download through the Lehigh Digital Library.

View of Holmden Street in Pithole, PA circa 1866

View of Holmden Street in Pithole, PA circa 1866

Historical Background

In the mid-19th century, Pennsylvania was undergoing a massive push for oil. As oil rich areas were discovered, towns and cities would spring up in support. One such city was Pithole, Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1865 as part of the regional oil boom. At its peak between 1865 and 1866, Pithole was home to over 20,000 residents, many of whom were housed in the city’s 54 hotels. The city also boasted Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, a daily newspaper, and a 1,100 seat theater.

Following major bank collapses caused by oil speculation and a series of highly destructive fires, Pithole shrank drastically.  By December of 1866, the population had dropped over 90% to around 2,000. By the time Pithole was unincorporated as a city in 1877, the population had dropped further still to 237.

Today, Pithole is owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and is home to the Pithole Visitors Center, which is managed by the Drake Well Museum. Pithole is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The History of Pithole

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Title page of The History of Pithole

While the city of Pithole, PA is now mostly an historical footnote, Leonard describes it in the preface as, “No town or city in the world has ever had so remarkable a history as that of Pithole. Its rapid growth, the amount of capital expended, and the fortunes realized here,—its numerous and monster wells, have had no equal since the world began.” This can largely be interpreted as hyperbole but it demonstrates the novelty and momentousness of oil extraction during the mid-nineteenth century.

The body of the book is split into two sections, the first being a history of Pithole and the second a collection of less serious anecdotes concerning the city and its residents. The history section provides an overview of the various petroleum companies active in the area and describes the different oil wells and their unique locales. This section goes into great detail concerning how the wells were constructed, how much oil they produced, and why they were of significance.

Leonard continues the hyperbolic language from the preface by describing Pithole as “Like Rome, sits on seven hills and from its throne of beauty rules the world. This quotation and comparison is not correct, but mistakes will happen in war time.” (P. 35) This section provides listings and descriptions of many of the utilities and businesses operating in the city. Indicative of Pithole’s ultimate demise, Leonard dedicates an entire section to fires. By his account, 17 fires occurred in and around Pithole between August 1865 and December 1866 resulting in damages to oil and property totaling nearly $2 million.

The second section of the book is largely farcical and satirical. It opens with a story titled “Discover of Pithole, in 1865, By Mr. ‘Pit’,” which once again comically exaggerates the cities origins and importance.  Other stories include “Remains of Mastodon found on  Holmden Street, 1866,” “A Prize Fight,” “War and Bloodshed,” “Ghost No. 1,” and “Ghost No. 2.” The first ghost story alludes to men drinking at night by describing “a fearful and marrow-freezing sound similar to the smashing of bottles and tumblers….Wild shrieks of demonical laughter, accompanied by a hiccoughing sound suggestive of taking poison….” (P. 74) The other stories are similarly tongue-in-cheek.

The final eight pages of the book are advertisements for supposedly oil rich real estate, a bank, the post office, a drug store, a stable, a hotel, the Pithole Daily Record newspaper, and finally a printer. The newspaper boasts a daily circulation of 1,500 copies.

Lehigh University’s Special Collections specializes in the history of technology, an actively growing collection with frequent additions. New and interesting material will continue to be featured on this blog, so check back for updates. If you have any questions or would like more information, contact Special Collections by email at inspc@lehigh.edu or by phone at 610-758-4506.

 

Leonard, Charles C. The History of Pithole. Pithole City, Pa.: Morton, Longwell & Co., Printers, 1867.

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Sonnet SLAM! with Shakespeare’s Folios

 

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Literature aficionados around the world gathered on April 21 st to honor William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. Events were hosted across the world, especially in the English speaking countries. At the Globe Theater, they had a 2.5 mile interactive course of short films called “The Complete Walk.”
Prince Charles attended a televised performance about the Shakespeare’s life at the Royal Shakespeare Theater.

While Lehigh is across the ocean from Shakespeare’s home turf of England, we still have enough reasons to celebrate his life and works. Here at Lehigh University, we honored William Shakespeare by hosting a Sonnet SLAM! in Linderman Library Bayer Galleria. Attendees could choose to listen to the sonnets, or read one aloud. The event was an open-mike, open to everyone to recite one of their favorite sonnets, or one they wrote themselves.

Special Collections displayed all four of the Shakespeare’s Folios owned by Lehigh. They were showcased only during the event. Since Shakespeare’s death (also thought to be around the time of his birth, as well) coincides with National Poetry Month, Lehigh was able to honor both occasions at the Sonnet SLAM!

The Sonnet SLAM! was sponsored by the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries and the LehighUniversity Creative Writing Program.

To learn more about the Lehigh’s Shakespeare Folios, read “The Shakespeare Folios and Forgeries of William Shakespeare’s Handwriting” or contact Special Collections.

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LEPOCO 50th Anniversary

Congratulations to the LEPOCO (Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern), a now ingrained Lehigh Valley institution, for turning fifty this year. For the last fifty years, the Lehigh-Plepocoocono Committee of Concern has been the voice of peace and environmentalism in the Lehigh Valley. The committee began as a local group advocating for the end of the Vietnam war under the name of “The Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern to End War in Viet Nam”. The group, spearheaded by Peter Cohen, advocated for an end to the draft and the war. This was the focus of LEPOCO until the war officially ended in 1975.

They fought against the war for the first decade of their organization. Through marches, rallies, posters, and talks, the message of peace and understanding was spread through the Lehigh Valley. With events like the Harrisburg Seven and celebrities like Jane Fonda coming to speak in the area, the group was able to become known nationwide. While the war was still going on, LEPOCO set their sights on President Richard Nixon. They called for his impeachment beginning in 1972. The continuing political involvement of the group expedited the distrust and investigation into President Nixon’s hidden activities.

vietnamThe fact that they had accomplished the goal of ending the war did not stop the Committee, rather it opened up more opportunities to promote peace and wellness outside of Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, worked as activists to help those affected by the war in Vietnam and build relations with Japan through a sister-city project, which produced the Japanese Garden which now sits in Bethlehem. After the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident, LEPOCO fought against the building and construction of nuclear energy facilities which coincided with their anti-nuclear weapon position. From the 1970s to the present, LEPOCO has also supported labor rights with assisting the farm workers movement and Cesar Chavez in the 1970s and continuing to work for civil rights throughout its history. LEPOCO has been one of the largest and most prominent activist groups in the Lehigh Valley and is continuing its work to bring peace to the world to this day.
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Today, the Lehigh University Special Collections houses Archives of LEPOCO which includes correspondence, posters, pamphlets, photographs, slides, business records, newsletters, and newspaper clippings all referencing the group’s activist activities. This collection is open to researchers learn more about LEPOCO and peace activities in Lehigh Valley.
For more information about the collection, please contact Special Collections.

 

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Into the New Century

Always fresh, always ready for new challenges for new centuries… a fundraising brochure cover from 1965, Lehigh’s centennial:

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into the second century

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Charter Day of Lehigh University

150 years ago, on the 9th day of February 1866, the charter of the Lehigh University was approved by Andrew Gregg Curtin, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
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Steve Kreider: The Game Changer

Lehigh University Photograph Collection

Steve Kreider with Outstanding Player Trophy in 1978.

The Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry Week is upon us again. We were flipping through past issues of the Brown and White, and decided to spotlight a year where Lehigh was victorious over the Leopards (surprise, surprise.) In the 1978 rivalry game, the 113th to be played, Lehigh triumphed, 35-17.
Lehigh trailed Lafayette until the third quarter of the game, but then had a 21-point burst.  Who is especially interesting is the game-changer we found.  His name is Steve Kreider.  He’s cited as a major player in the game.  Upon further research, we discovered that Steve Kreider may just be one of the most well-rounded people alive.
Kreider had a stellar college football career.  He was named an All-American Wide Receiver by the Associated Press in 1977.  That year, he helped the Lehigh Engineers snatch the Division II national championship.  He had 72 catches, 1,567 yards, and 19 touchdowns (we don’t know much about football, but we assume this is all very good). His academics weren’t shabby either- he was a Rhodes Scholar candidate.
Kreider would go onto further success in the National Football League.  After his senior year of college, he was drafted to the Cincinnati Bengals. He served as a wide-receiver for the team for seven years.  He even played in the Super Bowl game against the 49er’s.
He dedicated himself to his studies in his spare time away from football. Though he was an exceptional electrical engineering student at Lehigh, he went on to graduate school for business (a bold jump from engineering).  He studied at the University of Cincinnati and received his MBA and doctorate in finance from there.
Now, what is Steve Kreider up to?  He’s was Chief Investment Officer of Legg Mason Inc.’s Western Asset Management and was hired in 2014 to be Chief Investment Officer of Western & Southern Financial Group Inc.
So, essentially, Steve Kreider may be one of the most impressive people you’ll ever hear about.

Brown and White Vol. 90 no. 23: Kreider eyes his football future: pro career beyond the horizon?
Brown and White Vol. 91 no. 17: Ex-QB Kreider makes it big
“Ex-Bengal Kreider to Run Western & Southern’s $46 Billion” on Bloomberg

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Armistice Day

Now known as the Veterans Day, “Armistice Day” was declared as a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson to celebrate the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). Members of Lehigh University participated the World War I in many fronts, many lives were lost. To show the appreciation to their services and to honor their memory, Lehigh University dedicated the Alumni Memorial Building to “commemorate the services and sacrifices of Lehigh Alumni and undergraduates” in the World War I.

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Happy Halloween from the Hill!

fraternities-seal-skullHappy Halloween!

From the Epitome 1913, Fraternities greeting the readers with Lehigh Seal decorated with skulls, ghosts and tombstones!

https://archive.org/stream/epitomeyearbook137lehi#page/99/mode/1up

 

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Lehigh Celebrates its Sesquicentennial

Lehigh University is celebrating its Sesquicentennial!  Founded in 1865 by Asa Packer, Lehigh University has been gracing South Mountain now for 150 years.  Asa Packer’s goal for the University was to aid the “intellectual and moral improvement” of the Lehigh Valley (see Sesquicentennial timeline here.)  Its graduates now reach far beyond the Lehigh Valley.  Ten-percent of its current student body is international while it also sends students abroad through the Lee Iacocca internship program and a large number of other global study opportunities.

Lehigh has been reigning in its sesquicentennial with concerts such as the Lehigh Block Party, surprise gourmet dinners for students ala Diner en Blanc, and preparing for the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry game.  An online countdown was launched to spotlight 150 different important moments at Lehigh in preparation for the anniversary.

A number of academic projects were created, too. There is the digital project “Still Looking For You” where people can contribute photos with written memories that describe historical Bethlehem.  The Leadership Breakfast Program is an opportunity for executives and professionals to meet over breakfast once a month and learn new leadership skills.  Lehigh University is also bringing distinguished lecturers to campus, such as Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, whom will be speak about school reform in the United States.

Students are reveling in the festivities on campus!  We have to say, for being 150 years old, Lehigh still looks good!

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First Founder’s Day

From the meeting minutes on the first Founder’s Day Address:
“On motion of Mr. Lamberton it was Resolved, that the thanks of this Board tendered to our President the Rt. Rev. Dr. Howe, Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, for the just, interesting, and eloquent memorial address he delivered this day in honor of our Founder; and that a copy of it is here requested for publication.”

 

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Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, October 9, 1879

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Founder’s Day Address, 1879

 

 

This publication and so many other important documents from Lehigh’s history are archived, preserved and, in many cases, made available online. Contact Special Collections for more information.

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Sages of the Pages