Photograph from the Butler County Historical Society Collections. Reproduction is prohibited without the permission of the Butler County Historical Society

Petrolia was one of the many oil boomtowns in the Lower Oil Region of Western Pennsylvania.  In fact, Petrolia was one of numerous oil boomtowns clustered in Fairview Township with some of the others being Karns City, Argyle, Buena Vista, and Angelica, as seen in the Fairview Township picture (Atlas

of the County of Butler, and the State of Pennsylvania, 1874).  The reason for these oil boomtowns for being so close together is due to them being part of the “Cross Belt” or “Fourth” oil sand which covered this area of the Lower Oil Region.

On April 1st of 1872, the “Fanny Jane” Well was struck, thus giving birth to a new town called Petrolia.  Petrolia soon proved to be one of the many oil boomtowns in the lower region of the Pennsylvania Oil Region.  With that, this “…new and rich strike was sufficient incentive to set a number of people to building, and with the mush-room like growth, only known in oil and mining regions, a village was formed in the little valley of Bear Creek.” (History of Butler County Pennsylvania 1883, 134)  Not long after the “Fanny Jane” strike, other wells in the area were drilled and all proved to be good producers.  With this oil excitement in the new town, “…Petrolia had grown into a flourishing town with stores, machine shops, hotels, saloons and Shanties, all hastily contrived.” (McKinney, 368)  A small letter sent to the Oil Man’s Journal (Parker, PA) that appeared in the journal on November 9, 1872 confirms this rapid growth, “Our place has enlarged very much the past two or three months, and even now, on the Fairview side of town, buildings are going up.”  On February 1, 1873, Petrolia became a borough of Fairview Township in Butler, PA.  Many of the farmers who leased out their farms were amazed at how the little village grew “over night" and in a short span of time, the population of Petrolia jumped to 3,000 then to 5,000 and eventually reached 6,000 by the mid-1870s; the most prosperous period of oil production for the area.

Petrolia was truly becoming an oil boomtown with its rapid growth and good oil production.  In fact, some oil dwellers considered Petrolia as the center of the Lower Oil Region.  The years of 1875 to 1877 saw the greatest oil production in Petrolia and with this prosperity brought in numerous peoples of all classes.  With this great prosperity, “the rapid rise in the price of oil in 1876 stimulated the industrial growth of the place to the utmost.” (McKinney, 369)

Petrolia eventually went through many ups and downs of any typical oil boomtowns in the Pennsylvania Oil Region and by the late 1870s, “the Cross Belts…soon ceased to pour forth their floods of fortune, and most of them became either small producers or entirely dry.” (History of Butler County Pennsylvania 1883, 138)  By 1879, much of the oil business in the area began to drastically decline and “…there was a consequent exodus of population.” (McKinney, 369)  The reason for the decline of population was obvious; like many other oil boomtowns, over production quickly began to dry out the wells in Petrolia and the surrounding areas, causing much of the town’s population to move on to other areas of prosperous oil production.  By 1880, the population of Petrolia was a little over 1,100 people and today, the town hardly accounts for a few hundred people.

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