By Keith Gushard
ANDREW MAHONE/Meadville Tribune
Being a part of preserving a community’s past is its own reward for Melissa Mann of Meadville, who is the new site administrator at Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
“One of things I love about local history in a place like this is that it’s so community oriented,” said Mann, who was named site administrator by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on March 21 and began her duties Monday.
Drake Well Museum interprets the story of the oil industry, which began in 1859 outside of Titusville when Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well and launched the modern petroleum industry.
“It’s the sense of identity small towns have, and we play a role in the identity they have,” Mann said. “The public has so much trust in the museum. Fulfilling to do my job and have my staff do their job in a such good way that we have fulfill that promise — that we would preserve your history and your community’s identity you’ve entrusted us with. It’s quite a responsibility.”
Mann’s duties include managing staff, fundraising, overseeing site maintenance, coordinating the tour programs, special events and community outreach.
Mann has more than 10 years of experience in public history and heritage management. Most recently, she served as marketing and promotions manager for the Friends of Drake Well Inc.
Mann also worked as both Oil 150 deputy director and senior project manager for heritage development at the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism, administrator of Pennsylvania’s Oil Region National Heritage Area.
“We’re very pleased to have Melissa join our team as the site administrator at Drake Well,” PHMC Executive Director James Vaughan said. “Melissa brings her knowledge of Pennsylvania oil history and her many contacts in the region to the position, both of which will be great assets as she takes on this new role.”
Mann began her career in New Mexico as a photo archivist at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. She was curator for a collection of more than 150,000 photographs, postcards, maps, films, oral histories and slides.
Originally from the Canton, Ohio, area, Mann earned a bachelor’s degree in history and Spanish from Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, in 1998. She earned a master’s degree in history and completed all course work for a doctorate in history at the University of New Mexico.
Her focus was on Latin American history, but Mann said it has not been a stretch to learn about the oil industry.
“Even when I was studying Latin American history I was studying industry and labor history. Those were my areas of research,” she said. “Oil history is a global history. They drill for oil in Argentina and drill for oil in Venezuela. It’s something not outside my purview.”
The Drake Well Museum recently underwent a sweeping remodeling to become more interactive and reopened its exhibit hall late last summer. It’s a change that excites Mann.
“People are very excited that our main exhibit hall is open again because it has many interactive components,” she said. “We have hands-on video displays and new audio components. It’s updated in its delivery method in that it’s thematic in nature.”
Also, the previous exhibit was just chronological with the history ending at around 1900.
“Theme has allowed us to break out of the mold of the public just reading displays,” Mann said. “We have a section — Moving Oil — that shows horses, wagons and barrels, but also oil tankers. It shows the progression of oil transportation.”
Other sections have different themes such as how oil is used in everyday lives.
“People see how we’ve come to the point where we’re at today,” Mann said.
Mann said the new exhibit will be a dynamic educational tool as the school visiting season begins in late April and in May.
The museum receives about 30,000 visitors to the grounds each year while educational outreach programs reach another 20,000 to 25,000 people annually, she said.
One area Mann wants to expand now that the museum’s main display reopened is programming.
“During the renovations, things got a little bit isolated,” Mann said. “We want to focus on revamping our programming so there are more events we have on site like lectures and family day schedules. Those were the type of extras that weren’t done during the renovations.”
“We have strong ties to community, but we want to re-establish those partnerships,” she said.
You can go
Today, Drake Well Museum and the Friends of Drake Well host a special birthday party in honor of Edwin L. Drake.
In recognition of the 194th anniversary of Drake’s birth, visitors will enjoy birthday cake as well as a special guided tour of Drake Well’s 10,000 square foot exhibit, “There’s a Drop of OIL and GAS in Your Life Every Day!” The special program begins at 1 p.m. and is included in the museum’s regular admission fees.
- More information: Visit drakewell.org or call (814) 827-2797.
Drake Well Museum and Park is located along Oil Creek, off Route 8, just south of Titusville. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. from April through December; Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. from January through March. The museum is closed all holidays except Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.