The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Burning Springs

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Site of Rathbone Well at Burning Springs in Wirt County

Several locations in West Virginia have been named Burning Springs. Two of the best known were at springs that contained traces of gas and that could be ignited. Such springs were long regarded as natural wonders, but became important as hallmarks of oil, salt, and natural gas in the 1800s.

Burning Springs, in Kanawha County, was owned by George Washington and General Andrew Lewis, who purchased the spring in 1775 as a real-estate investment, though its value as a source of fuel was not understood. The spring was discovered only two years prior by the VanBibber Brothers -- the first Europeans to settle the upper Kanawha Valley. Salt-works were developed at and near the springs in the late 1700s, but the demand for gas and oil were not developed until the mid-1800s, and their presence in the salt brine was an inconvenience.

Burning Springs, in Wirt County, now a rural community, or hamlet, was the center of the first oil boom in the U.S. The field that developed around the spring included several oil-dependent communities, some of which attained 1,000 residents before they were destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War. Its industry never recovered. Located along the scenic Little Kanawha River, the wooded grounds of 31-acre Burning Springs Park include the Burning Springs Museum, site of the restored Rathbone Well, the world's oldest extant oil-well. Fort Hill, so-named for a fort intended to defend if the oil-works were attacked, is located north of the town. A state historical marker is located along WV-5 within the park.

Other examples of burning springs were located in Beckley, WV, near the home of the city's founder, and on Madam's Creek near Hinton, WV.