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The West Virginia. Cyclopedia


California, West Virginia

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California, a ghost town in northern Wirt County, figured prominently in the development of the northern West Virginia oilfields. Here, as well as at nearby Petroleum, WV, are located wells that vie with Pennylvania's Drake's Well for the title of "first" in U.S. History, according to David McKain, director of the West Virginia Oil & Gas Museum.

Oil was gathered in trenches here, according to McKain, and was barreled and distributed to Parkersburg, WV, and Marietta, OH. A water well producing marketable oil in the early 1850s was also located at California and was sold in 1859 to Samuel Kier, an American inventor sometimes known as the Grandfather of the American Oil Industry. Oil was commercially drilled here in 1859 by Charles Shattuck and J. T. Johnston "at the same time as the famous Drake well was being drilled in Pennsylvania," McKain states. (See: WV Oil & Gas Museum.)

The WV Oil & Gas Museum has purchased five acres at the town-site to be developed as a museum and interpretive center. The site includes a barn, water well, and the foundation stones of the "California House," the town's tavern.