The Oil Region Alliance owns three historic properties. All are open at least once a year for a free, public open house. They are:
- The Tarbell House at 324 East Main Street in Titusville, PA.
- The Neilltown Church at 2638 Neilltown Road near Pleasantville, PA.
- The McClintock-Steele-Waitz House (aka Coal Oil Johnny House) at 167 Old Bankson Road in Oil City, PA.
The Tarbell House
Ida M. Tarbell and her Childhood Home
Ida M. Tarbell (b. 1857) is possibly the most famous female investigative journalist in U.S. history. A native of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Tarbell moved to Titusville with her family in 1870. She attended Titusville High School and went on to attend Allegheny College in Meadville, PA,graduating as the sole woman in the class of 1880. Following her graduation, Tarbell accepted a teaching post in Ohio, but resigned after two years. Upon returning to Pennsylvania, she accepted a position as a journalist at "The Chautauquan" and found her true calling.
Tarbell honed her journalism skills at "The Chautauquan" for seven years before moving to "McClure’s Magazine", where she wrote "The History of the Standard Oil Company." This serialized article was published over two years beginning in 1902, and then as a book in 1904. Tarbell’s investigation into John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company led to antitrust lawsuits and congressional hearings. In 1911, the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil Company Trust, implementing our country’s first antitrust laws.
Today, Tarbell remains most well-known for changing the faces of the oil industry and journalism. However, during her writing career, she also penned a number of important biographies, including works on Abraham Lincoln, Madame Roland and Napoleon Bonaparte. Tarbell also published an autobiography entitled "All in a Day’s Work" in 1939. She died in 1944.
Ida M. Tarbell resided in her family’s home at 324 East Main Street in Titusville, PA from 1870 through 1876.
Franklin S. Tarbell, Ida’s father, built the house in 1870 with materials he salvaged from Pithole, an oil boomtown in decline. Mr. Tarbell purchased the Bonta House, one of Pithole’s most elegant and expensive hotels, for a mere $600. He razed the hotel and moved the usable materials ten miles to Titusville.
Using timber, windows, doors, woodwork and iron brackets from the Bonta House, Mr. Tarbell built a beautiful Italianate home. The original home included a living room, dining room, spare room and one-story kitchen on the first floor while the second floor contained three bedrooms. In addition, the 1870 structure featured a three-story tower over the front porch, a two-story east wing and a nearly flat tin roof.
Over the years, the home experienced drastic changes. By 1898, the Tarbell family had expanded the house twice, adding a second floor over the kitchen as well as a one-story addition behind the kitchen. They also added a second floor artist’s studio at the back of the home prior to 1912. Lee and Inez Green purchased the home in 1918 and immediately remodeled it for two-family occupancy. Furthermore, in the late-1920s after a fire, the Greens removed the east wing as well as the third floor tower, added a hipped roof and three dormers and constructed a Neoclassical porch across the full width of the structure. They also updated and modernized many of the home’s interior features during their 65 year ownership.
Today, Ida Tarbell’s childhood home, known as the Tarbell House, is owned by the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism. Rehabilitated to its appearance during the 1870s, the house interprets Tarbell’s early life as well as the early years and material culture of Pennsylvania’s oil boom.
The Tarbell House
The Tarbell House, constructed in 1870, is a two-story, Italianate home. In 2007, the Oil Region Alliance purchased the 2,702 square foot home from AMC Mortgage.
Gustafson General Contracting began the exterior rehabilitation in 2009. To start, workers replaced the 1920s-era dormered roof with a new,flatter roof, returning the home to its original roofline. The crew then reconstructed the home’s original built-in box gutters, using modern stainless steel. All asphalt roofing on the rear section of the house was removed and replaced with a standing-seam steel roof and both bay windows were given new hand-soldered terne-coated steel roofs. As part of the exterior rehabilitation, the contractor also raked and repointed all of the home’s masonry, from the brick chimneys to the stone foundation. Workers also lifted and solidified the foundation under the west side bay window. The crew removed the 1920s-era front porch and using a combination of historic photos and structural clues, reconstructed the home’s original Victorian porch and veranda.
In the Fall of 2010, painters restored the home’s exterior to its original color scheme. Students from the University of Pittsburgh, Titusville Campus made improvements to the home’s landscaping, creating beds filled with lilies, daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hostas. In addition, the Titusville Shade Tree Commission planted two maple trees. In late-2011, workers constructed a Victorian-style ADA accessibility ramp on the west side of the house, completing the structure’s exterior rehabilitation.
The Oil Region Alliance began the home’s interior restoration in 2012. To date, the Stirling Bridge Development Company has installed electrical service throughout the home, including period-appropriate replica light fixtures as well as porch lights and motion detectors. The house has also been fitted with complete fire/smoke/security systems. Also completed are plumbing and HVAC work. The next steps among the interior rehabilitation efforts will include window restorations, plaster repair, millwork and historically accurate decoration.
In 2016 the third floor cupola tower on the southwest corner of the building and decorative wooden trim and tall metal finial were reconstructed by Gustafson General Contracting. According to her autobiography, Ida Tarbell spent many childhood hours studying in the tower.
Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the Tarbell House as a house museum and invites the public to learn best practices while observing the continued rehabilitation of a Victorian-era home. The home is open for tours by appointment, for public teas, and is available for first floor rentals to host special events.
The Neilltown Church
History of the Neilltown Church
Early pioneers settled the area surrounding Neilltown in Forest County, PA during the 1790s. As the area’s population grew, itinerant circuit riders, including Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian ministers, visited the communities, holding religious services. In 1822, local Scotch-Irish Presbyterians organized the Concord Presbyterian Church, and in 1826, constructed a log church at Tyrell Farm (today east of Pleasantville, PA along Route 36).
The Concord Presbyterian Church adhered to the doctrine of Original Sin and held extremely plain worship services devoid of frivolous diversions like music and heat. Forbidden to work on Sunday, followers attended services the entire day. When, in 1837, the Presbyterian Church split into the Old and New Schools, the thriving congregation at Tyrell Farm remained staunchly committed to the Old School. This decision along with the simultaneous growth of neighboring communities like Pleasantville and Neillsburg (present Neilltown) led to a steady decline in membership until the church at Tyrell Farm was finally abandoned.
During the early-1840s, the William Neill family (original settlers of the area) donated land for a new Concord Presbyterian Church in Neillsburg. Built during the summer of 1842, today’s Neilltown Church hosted its first sermon on September 14, 1842. Though strict in doctrine, the church flourished until the 1860s and 1870s when the region’s oil boom drew people to the thriving towns of Pleasantville and Tidioute. Never a large congregation, the church’s membership dipped during the early 1880s, numbering fewer than 30 people.
Increased oil activity in the Neilltown area breathed new life into this Presbyterian church during the final years of the nineteenth century. In 1892, membership reached a record high 64 people, and the Neilltown Cemetery Association was created in 1897. Neilltown Church’s style of worship changed dramatically during this period with the installation of a harmonium (pump organ) and two wood-burning stoves. The church and cemetery continued to thrive through the first two decades of the twentieth century. However, during the 1920s, Neilltown Church entered another period of decline, hosting only occasional services.
From 1929 to 1945, Neilltown Church saw regular use as the home of the American Sunday School Union. The Cemetery Association also held annual picnics during this period. In preparation for the church’s 1942 Centennial Celebration, the congregation replaced the roof, redecorated the interior, and constructed a shed to house an electric generating plant. On September 20, 1942, 290 people attended the two worship services marking the occasion. Yet, despite the excitement created by the church’s Centennial anniversary, Sunday School activities and regular worship services ceased in 1945, and Neilltown Church fell into disuse.
By 1969, Neilltown Church’s deteriorated condition prompted the creation of a Restoration Committee. As its first order of business, this group replaced the church’s floor framing and decking. Beginning in 1973, the church hosted a Spring Memorial Service and an Autumn Praise and Communion Service annually. The Neilltown Cemetery Association acquired the church building from the Lake Erie Presbytery on June 4, 1983, and in September 1992, Neilltown Church marked its 150th Anniversary. The annual services at Neilltown Church were discontinued in 2003, and the Oil Region Alliance purchased the building for historic preservation in 2004.
Preserving the Neilltown Church Building
The Neilltown Church, built in 1842, is a single story wooden post and beam structure located in Forest County, Pennsylvania. This Greek Revival church contains two rooms, a narthex (39’5” wide by 8’10” deep) and a sanctuary (39’5” wide by 36’1” deep) and can seat approximately 110 people. In 2004, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (predecessor to the Oil RegionAlliance) purchased the 1,880 square foot building for $1. The Neilltown Cemetery Association retains ownership of the land parcel upon which the building sits.
The Oil Region Alliance undertook the church’s exterior rehabilitation in 2010. To start, a local contractor replaced the structure’s old asphalt-shingled roof with a new more historically accurate cedar-shingled roof and added a gutter system. His crew then added a new ADA entrance at the rear of the building, including a new steel door, concrete pad, sloped approach and an aggregate walkway from a designated ADA parking space. Following the design of project architect Jeff Kidder, the contractor also reinforced the building’s north wall, replacing a rotted timber sill. To complete the project, electricity was restored to the building, a security system was installed, and the church’s original front doors were repaired and refinished with the addition of new reproduction period door latches.
While working on the exterior restoration project, workers discovered two severely rotted timber sections along the top of the church’s framework. After inspecting the deterioration, the structural engineer declared the building unstable. Securing an emergency loan from Preservation PA, Inc., the Oil Region Alliance initiated rapid response repairs. Gustafson General Contracting sistered custom-made wooden bracing to the problem timbers, installed interior support poles, and added cement pads beneath each upright timber on the church’s perimeter,stabilizing the structure.
Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the Neilltown Church as a special public events venue, hosting memorial services, musical performances, and educational programs. The church is open for tours by appointment.
Music Returns to the Neilltown Church Building
In the fall of 2006, the Oil Region Alliance launched its annual “Music Returns to the Neilltown Church Building” series. Utilizing the historic church as its venue, the Alliance hosts live musical programs. The concerts, held on Sunday afternoons in the summer, are free and open to the public.
All donations received are used to continue efforts to preserve the Neilltown Church building.
Past performances have featured acoustic, Celtic and bluegrass music, bagpipe, banjo and handbell musicians.
Memorial services, educational programs and cultural events may be held at the Neilltown Church building. Call Marilyn Black, VP of Heritage Development, at the Oil Region Alliance for rental rates and more information.
McClintock – Steele – Waitz House
“Coal Oil Johnny’s House”
John Washington Steele, more commonly known as “Coal Oil Johnny,” was Petrolia’s prodigal prince. John was born in 1843. At an early age he and his sister Permelia were adopted by Culbertson and Sarah “Sally McClintock. The McClintocks were relatively well-to-do farmers living along Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania (between present-day Rynd Farm and Rouseville). As a child, John attended school and church, did chores, and enjoyed hunting in the woods surrounding the farm. In 1855, Culbertson McClintock died, leaving the farm to his wife with the understanding that John would inherit it upon her death.
Following the success of the Drake Well near Titusville in 1859, oil speculators were in a frenzy to buy or lease property along Oil Creek. Mrs. McClintock leased her farm in exchange for oil royalties, becoming quite wealthy when oil was discovered on the property in 1862. During this period, John worked as a teamster hauling barrels of oil to shipping points as well as drilling machinery and materials to well sites. He also learned to pilot the flatboats that took oil down Oil Creek to the Allegheny River. In 1864, Mrs. McClintock died from burns sustained in a fire at the house, and 21-year-old John inherited the farm, his childhood home, and the oil royalties.
For a time, John tended to business on the farm. However, his ever-increasing wealth became too tempting. Leaving his young bride Eleanor Moffitt Steele and their infant son in the oil region, John embarked on a two-year spending spree in Philadelphia and New York, where “trouble and hangers-on had a way of finding him.” He squandered all his money and then some on poor business deals and extravagances like clothes, diamond rings, gold watches, cigars and alcohol. Journalists coined the handle “Coal Oil Johnny” for him, reflecting in part his love for his custom carriage. The carriage was bright red, drawn by a matched pair of black stallions; painted onto the carriage doors were black oil derricks spouting dollar symbols. After the money ran out and he tired of traveling with a minstrel show, John returned to Venango County, where his wife and son waited. He resided again briefly at his childhood home before losing that through bankruptcy, too. For a while, he returned to work as a teamster and he tried his hand at operating several small retail businesses in nearby communities. Then, after trying to live a sober life in a place where everyone knew his spend-thrift past, the Steeles moved west, first to Dennison, Iowa, until John’s reputation caught up with him, and then on to several Nebraska towns. John Washington Steele died in 1921.
John Washington Steele’s home, known as the McClintock-Steele-Waitz House, is owned by the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism. It has been rehabilitated to its appearance during the 1860s, and house interprets Coal Oil Johnny’s life as well as the early years and material culture of Pennsylvania’s oil boom.
Preservation Efforts at Coal Oil Johnny’s
The McClintock-Steele-Waitz House, constructed circa 1850, is a two-story wooden peg-n-post frame building. In 1999, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (predecessor to the Oil Region Alliance) purchased the 1,024 square foot house from Larry and Carole Waitz for $1 plus the cast iron bathtub and the kitchen stove.
Gustafson General Contracting began the exterior rehabilitation in 2001. To start, the home was fumigated twice, removing an infestation of powderpost beetles. Workers then prepared the structure, originally located on Waitz Road, to be relocated further up Oil Creek. They stripped the house down to its original materials and then dismantled it, numbering each component. The materials were transported 0.6 miles to Rynd Farm inside Oil Creek State Park where the crew reassembled the house piece by piece. The home’s elements were used in their exact prior positions. However, the foundation stones were placed around a new, more stable cement block base. The contractor also added other safety and security enhancements, including tarpaper behind the walls, attic and sub-floor ventilation, stronger boards sistered to original joists and beams and electric/security panels, in ways not visible to the casual observer. To complete the exterior rehabilitation, the home was painted its original color scheme, and a new front porch identical to one in historic photographs of the home was added.
The Oil Region Alliance undertook the home’s interior restoration in 2005. Gustafson General Contracting added insulation, electricity and stove heat to the building. The crew also refinished the home’s original floors and staircase. New interior decorations, including period-accurate wall coverings and light fixtures resembling those of the 1860s-1870s, were chosen to depict what the house might have looked like after the McClintocks and Steeles came into their oil money. The Alliance has also furnished the home with historically accurate furniture and antiques.
In 2006, volunteers Jim and Mary Watson made improvements to the home’s landscaping, creating stone-lined beds filled with native wildflowers and other period plantings. They also installed an authentic nineteenth-century rain barrel.
Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the McClintock-Steele-Waitz House as a house museum, depicting the household of an early oil producing family. The home is open for tours by appointment, and the Alliance hosts public open houses each year. Passengers on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad have the opportunity to view the house exterior as part of their ride.
Recommended Reading: Coal Oil Johnny–His Book by John Washington Steele, 1902 (Reprinted by the Oil Region Alliance in 2006).Back to top