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Titusville, Pa., Celebrates Oil’s 150th Birthday

August 4, 2008

By Tim Hahn, Erie Times-News, Pa.

Aug. 2–TITUSVILLE — The “Valley that Changed the World” promises to be a busy place over the next 17 months.

Parts of southeastern Crawford County and northwestern Venango County have already been inundated by news crews and tourists from all over the world, said Barbara Zolli, site director for the Drake Well Museum and Park near Titusville.

But things should get hopping now that the oil industry’s 150th anniversary celebration has begun, she said.

“This has to be a party of all parties, and it’s wonderful that we have 17 months to do it,” Zolli said.

Zolli’s pronouncement came as federal, state and local officials gathered next to the replica of Col. Edwin Drake’s oil well Friday at the park to announce the opening of Oil 150.

From now through 2009, national and local events will be held to honor the beginning of oil production in 1859. They will also address the rise and fall of an industry that has touched every life, said Will Wingo, director of the celebration.

The Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism spent two and a half years planning events around the greater Titusville area, where Drake drilled the first successful well dedicated solely to extracting oil from the ground in 1859, Wingo said.

“The project has been interesting, exciting and, up to now, a lot of talking and a lot of planning,” he told an audience of about 50 people who gathered at the museum Friday. “Now, a lot of things are happening every month through the end of next year.”

The festivities will tie in with Titusville’s annual Oil Festival, which opens Monday, and with other events scheduled throughout Venango County.

They will include special programs at historic sites associated with the once-booming local oil industry and a panel discussion on the relevance of oil and natural gas to be held at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville on Aug. 12.

Beyond northwestern Pennsylvania, Oil 150 officials are working with a Public Broadcasting Service film crew on a documentary about the oil industry that should be ready for release in 2009, Wingo said.

The group is also working with the Smithsonian Institution on an exhibit for the newly remodeled National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., he said.

The Drake Well Museum is in line for its own makeover. The state is investing $6 million to renovate the 45-year-old museum.

The project is expected to cost $7 million to $7.5 million, with more funds generated by businesses and through fundraising by museum supporters, Zolli said.

Museum officials hope to have the work done by August 2009, the 150th anniversary of Drake’s well, she said.

August 2009 will also mark the 50th birthday of the mannequin of Drake that resides at the museum. It was created in 1959 for the 100th anniversary of the oil industry, and it was delivered to the museum by helicopter while the “Today” show filmed a segment about the anniversary, Zolli said.

The mannequin has been an active participant in the Oil 150 planning — organizers have dragged it to some of the meetings, Zolli said.

It doesn’t mind all of the fuss, she added.

Information on the Oil 150 celebration can be found at www.oil150.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Erie Times-News, Pa.

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