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Petroleum, West Virginia

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Petroleum, in northern Ritchie County, is an unincorporated community, or village, that may have been the site of the first oil wells drilled in the U.S. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had been acquiring lubricating oil from an oil spring or wells here, on Oil Spring Run, as early as 1857, according to David McKain, director of the West Virginia Oil & Gas Museum, at Parkersburg, WV.

McKain contends that in early 1859 the first oil well drilled in the U.S. was located here at Petroleum, rather than at the Drake Well near Titusville, PA. "It is this site and the California, WV site which gives West Virginia the historical basis to challenge current history as to where the oil industry started," McKain affirms. (See: WV Oil & Gas Museum.)

Petroleum was first an oil-and-water stop on the B&O Railroad, but quickly became a community that included stores, a hotel, a refinery, and a telegraph office. During the Civil War, the sixth West Virginia Infantry was stationed at Petroleum and at the ends of the B&O Tunnel to either side of the town. A blockhouse may also have been located at the site.

As part of its initiative to develop industrial-heritage sites in the oil field, the Parkersburg museum plans to install a blockhouse, demonstration oil derrick, and a "telegraph pumping station" at the site. The 72-mile-long North Bend Rail Trail follows the grade of the former B&O Railroad through the townsite.

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