|HISTORIAN DAVID MCKAIN HAS PASSED|
By Bob Weaver 2001
The historic Rathbone Well of Burning Springs is back in "business"
after it was first
drilled in 1860. Parkersburg's Oil and Gas Museum is behind the
resurrection of the
site, and is developing a roadside park along Route 5, according to
McKain. Perkins Oil and Gas has opened up the 480 foot well and "oil
and gas is
coming out again." McKain said the original well was 139 feet deep.
Col. Edwin Drake drilled the first oil producing well in Titusville,
Pennsylvania a mere
six months before the Rathbone well became a producer. The Burning
according to historian Howard B. Lee, began producing seven barrels a
day for $20 a
Free-flowing oil was discovered by early Little Kanawha River
explorers Jesse and
Elias Hughes and William Lowther, who spotted the burning oil springs.
through and identified locations as early as 1782. The area was known
Springs" as early as 1828.
The early settlers and visitors regarded oil as "nature's wonder cure"
ailments and sold the "medicine" for fifty cents a quart. William
came from New York in 1840 to become the areas principal landowner and
businessman. Rathbone joined with well known Parkersburg businessman
Camden and his associates in drilling ventures. News of the oil strike
spread up and
down the east coast, causing a "wild rush" to Burning Springs.
Lee says the village gained a population of 6,000 people, but Curator
those numbers may be inflated. Landlords erected dozens of make-shift
house the speculators to the "black gold rush" of Wirt County. Camden
an oil refinery in Parkersburg.
On the hillside above what is now Route 5, speculators built the
House" which is said to have been a twenty-one room saloon, hotel,
and house of "ill repute." Lee says at least a half dozen other
brothels sprung up on
the hillside, with six to ten women in each house.
The Chicago House was burned to the ground during a Rebel invasion in
General Robert E. Lee sent two small task forces into the area to
Another mission was to destroy railroad lines. The troops did their
Buckhannon to Cairo, after which they turned toward Burning
The town's residents had a three-hour warning the Rebels were coming
to destroy the
oil field and steal the horses. Teamsters hurriedly loaded supplies,
equipment on wagons and "took off up Burning Springs Run." The Rebs
attempt to follow them.
Val Rathbone attempted to deal with the Rebel commanders, but he did
enough cash to ransom the town. At 11 a.m. on May 9, 1863 the town and
its oil field
was destroyed - derricks, storage basins, engine houses, sawmills,
cooperage, plus five fully loaded barges. Engines and boilers were
The Little Kanawha became a river of fire down to Elizabeth, thirteen
burning most everything on either side of the river.
It is this historic place and time that will be remembered along Route
5, an extension
of the Oil and Gas Museum of Parkersburg.
Rig brings Rathbone Well to life again
Burning Springs was burned and the Little Kanawha became "river of
Parking area across Rt.5