“People came to Oil City to make money and they did.”—Charles Martens
From a small Native American settlement in the 1600s to a booming oil drilling town, Oil City developed and redeveloped to match the pace of history and the times. Oil City saw its entry into the commercial oil industry soon after the first successful drilling in nearby Titusville by Colonel Edwin Drake in 1859.
Downtown Oil City is located at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Oil Creek. This natural resource was an invaluable mode of transportation for oil carrying barges until the late 1860s when railroads were added. Today, it winds between two sides of the city surrounded by businesses and historic buildings, and many cultural events are held by the riverside throughout the year. Both sides of the city are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Between 1868 and the mid-20th century, Oil City flourished commercially and structurally. It housed companies like Standard Oil, Pennzoil, Quaker State Oil, Wolf’s Head, and smaller manufacturers for glass, steel, and chemicals.
Downtown is known for its architecture with a city vibe in a rural area. One of its most famous buildings is the National Transit Building, located on Seneca Street, which was built as a purchasing office by the Standard Oil Company founded by John D. Rockefeller. Right next door, it is rumored that Charlie Chaplin signed his first film contract when he performed at the Lyric Theatre while on the 1914 national vaudeville tour. The art deco styled Latonia building, located on the corner of East First Street and Central Avenue, was built in the 1920s and operated by Warner Brothers. It boasts one of the largest chandeliers in the world.
The city reinvented itself as the oil industry shrunk in Pennsylvania. Its location is strategically blended with natural functional beauty, and its commercial and aesthetic history. Today Oil City is emphasizing historical and outdoor tourism, and arts revitalization. The Oil City Main Street Program is one of the newest ways in which the local community is reinventing downtown Oil City.
Oil City has a proud Polish heritage with many residents having ancestral ties to Poland. Polish Hill was a well known area where Poles lived on the North side of town early on. This heritage has been celebrated throughout generations, specifically during Oil Heritage Festival where Polka music and dancing delight concert goers on the lawn of Justus Park.
Minutes away from downtown is the Polish Memorial Garden as well as the beautiful Assumption Catholic Church, where services are always spoken in Polish.
The Oil City Library houses the Venango County Genealogical Society in their Heritage Room, which features.a vast archive of information on Oil City’s most prominent residents as well as various community leaders and heroes.
In the Heritage Room you can research people, purchase obituaries and request family searches. A vast amount of photos are on display and historical documents are on site as well.
The Heritage Room is open on Saturdays from 1 PM to 5 PM. Call 814-678-3074 or visit the Venango County Genealogical Society for more information.
Downtown Oil City is a very walkable town connected by four bridges. Walkers can walk a perfect mile crossing the bridges. And many people walk during their lunch breaks and in the evenings.
Downtown is a bike friendly town with bridges, and access to trails just a few miles away from the center of downtown. The Samuel Justus Trail is a local favorite providing both walkers and bikers a scenic 8 mile route on a paved surface. The Erie-to-Pittsburgh Bike Trail runs directly through Oil City.
Right in the heart of downtown Oil City sits the serene Justus Park, where boaters, fishermen, and kayakers have direct entry into the winding Allegheny River.
Downtown Oil City is in the heart of the network of the oil region's 50 miles of asphalt paved trails for hiking, biking, walking, and running. Some include pedestrian bridges and train tunnels. The Samuel Justus Trail is eight miles of trail between Oil City and Franklin along the scenic Allegheny river, and is ideal for bikers and runners. The Sandy Creek Trail is suited to bridge aficionados. Two Mile Run Park is an extensive area for camping, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and mountain bikers, perfect for all day fun.
Nearby, there is the Oil Creek State Park, a ten minute drive from downtown Oil City, for those who enjoy history and the outdoors. The park includes the iconic Drake Well Museum and family-friendly camping grounds. Hikers, bikers, hunters, fishermen and canoeists and kayakers will enjoy 7,245 acres of beautiful, scenic park. For more outdoor history from the oil era, Kennerdell Tract of Clear Creek State Forest, is home to iron furnaces and oil fields covering 3,200 acres.
For geo-cachers there is the Allegheny Geo-Trail spreading over ten counties. There are over 10,000 caches in Venango County.
Information and maps for outdoor recreation is available at the Oil Region Alliance located at 217 Elm Street in downtown Oil City.
Within minutes from downtown Oil City you can access beautiful Hasson Park with softball fields, field hockey, a skate park, and the newly renovated Hasson Pool. The park boasts a playground, picnic areas, and a beautiful abundance of rhododendron. In addition a newly built disc golf course brings teams from all over the region.
Hasson Park has more than enough to entertain the whole family all day.
Near Hasson Park is our beloved Oil City Senior High School with a new track and tennis courts accessible to the public during the day.
Playgrounds abound in the Oil City community, and are minutes from downtown. Land of Laughter playgrounds have been a volunteer effort to create colorful green space in neighborhoods, while providing a safe and kid-friendly environment to play and explore.
All children must be supervised by an adult when using the playgrounds.
Hasson Pool is a family favorite with its newly renovated pools, slides, and water sprinklers. Patrons can also access the sand volleyball court that connects to the pool area.