By Joshua Sherretts
William Brice didn’t start his career with the intention of writing the ultimate biography of the first oilman. The former professor and high school math and science teacher has traveled widely, getting his teaching certification in University of Tasmania, Australia, and his doctorate at Cornell University. Lately, however, he has been “drilling” for the history of Pennsylvania’s oil boom and its early pioneers, a history he plans to share Wednesday at the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Col. Edwin Drake’s oil discovery near Titusville in 1859.
Brice has launched himself full force into the festivities in Crawford and Venango counties this summer, celebrating Drake’s (and others’) accomplishments. He is on the speaker’s list in several regional locations, with Crawford County’s Baldwin-Reynolds House being the next stop. Brice’s free lecture, “Pennsylvania’s Early Oil Pioneers,” begins at 7 p.m. at the museum on Terrace Street.
“This presentation will focus on who these people were and how they all came together during the mid-1850s to launch one of the most successful industries the world has even known,” Brice says, passionate about his subject. “These people” refers to Drake, George Bissell, Francis Brewer and Samuel Kier, just a few of the many names common in early oil history.
The Baldwin-Reynolds House is not stopping with Brice, however, as with this major anniversary in northwest Pennsylvania, locals seem to have “Oil on the Brain,” to quote a period song. Brice will kick off the museum’s series of free presentations on oil history with a cast of local and regional speakers to follow that will appeal to nearly every audience.
The Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum was once the home to Atlantic and Great Western Railroad President William Reynolds, who has his own ties to the oil boom: He was one of the main forces behind the railroads that made shipment of oil to larger localities possible.
Be sure to stop by on Wednesday to hear the first of many enjoyable presentations, fit to relieve that “oil on the brain.”
Here is the museum’s summer list of speakers:
Wednesday — “Pennsylvania’s Early Oil Pioneers,” William Brice
June 10 — “John Watson and Crawford County Resources at Drake Well Museum,” Barbara Zolli, director of Drake Well Museum
June 24 — “John Wilkes Booth and the Oil Region,” Bruce Barrett
July 8 — “Oil and the Law: Early Court Cases,” Russ Schetroma
July 22 — “Charles Culver,” Robert Ilisevich
Aug. 5 — “Ida Tarbell ‘As She Was,’ ” Betty Richmond
Aug. 19 — “Roll Out the Barrels: The Greenlee Brothers and Crawford County’s Other Notable Barrel Makers,” Joshua F. Sherretts
Sept. 9 — “C.C. Leonard: Oil Boom Reporter,” William B. Moore
Sept. 23 — “Telling the Story, 1860-1915: John Mather Documents the Birth of an Industry,” Anne Stewart
By Joshua Sherretts