Oil & Gas Museum
Our goal: to portray the rich and impactful history that the industry has played in our region. Our constantly growing collection of oil and gas artifacts, regional industry exhibits, and Civil War memorabilia give visitors a unique experience as they learn about this vital resource.
Blending some of the oldest oil and gas artifacts in existence with current displays of how revolutionary the industry has become, we offer a valuable insight into the ever-changing oil and gas business.
This nationally recognized museum presents the intriguing history of the oil and gas industry, including how the accumulation of wealth from oil impacted West Virginia statehood.
In recent years, the industry has gone through paradigm geopolitical changes impacting international relations, national policy, markets and technology. Our museum is dedicated to the guardianship of the oil and gas industry's heritage from Where It All Began, to where it is today, and where it's headed tomorrow.
Clan progenitor, Scottish-born Alexander Henderson Sr. arrived in Virginia in the 1700s serving in the House of Burgesses and as a member of the committee appointed to decide boundary lines that still exist today between Maryland and Virginia. Henderson counted such historic icons as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Mason and George Washington among his acquaintances. It was on advice of his friend George Washington, that Henderson bought 25,000 acres in western Virginia, and sent three of his sons to the then wilderness that was the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Henderson brothers Alexander and John played a key role in thwarting the treasonous exploits of Aaron Burr. The brothers turned in Harman Blennerhassett and Burr when Blennerhassett tried to recruit the Henderson's to become part of Burr's scheme. The Henderson's reported the plot to family friends President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison and alerted local militia. In the archives of Henderson Hall is a letter from Dumfries native John Graham, who was dispatched by Jefferson to investigate Burr's activities, thanking the Henderson's for the integral part they played in foiling Burr's plot.
G.W. Henderson married Elizabeth Ann Tomlinson. Educated at Ohio University, G.W. studied law at Marietta College and served at the 1861 Wheeling Convention. G.W. remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War even though the family had slaves and the family in Virginia joined the Confederacy. G.W. built what is today Henderson Hall.
The 29-room perfectly preserved Victorian-era Italianate style River Road Henderson mansion which stands on a terrace overlooking the Ohio River was completed in 1859 using brick, stone and timber from the Henderson property.
Burning Springs was first inhabited by Native Americans. It was discovered by Europeans first in 1772 on an expedition of the Little Kanawha and Ohio Rivers by Jesse and Ellis Hughes and Colonel William Lowther. In 1792, several people hunting in this area were killed by some of the area Native Americans. It is recorded that by 1810, several Europeans resided in this area. There were some schools and churches built around this time.
The first well was drilled in 1832, however, this was an unsuccessful salt well. John V. Rathbone purchased one hundred acres of land in this area in 1842. In 1852, another salt well was drilled, but was abandoned because it contained more oil than salt. Two brothers, J. Cass Rathbone and John V. Rathbone had been gathering oil from the river for several years and sold it as medicine. In 1859, they leased the oil-contaminated salt well and produced 7 40-gallon barrels of oil a day. With the success of this well, the brothers decided to drill deeper wells for oil in 1860. They drilled 303 feet to find a well that produced 500 barrels of oil per day. This is the famous Rathbone well. All sources differ on the production amounts of the wells drilled following this, but no matter the number, it was an extraordinary amount of oil produced in Burning Springs.
When word spread that oil had been found in Burning Springs, people from all around the United States came to invest in oil. This was the Oil Boom of 1861. The Rathbone Brothers sold over 70 leases of one acre each for people to drill on. At its peak prior to the Civil War, some records show that over 10,000 people lived in the town of Burning Springs. This was much more than nearby Elizabeth and Parkersburg at the time. In less than a year, the town of Burning Springs sprang up with several hotels, stores, saloons, machine shops, oil well supplies, blacksmith shops, and much more. The town ran about a mile and a half long. People came not only to drill oil, but to cater to oil boomers, manufacture oil barrels, and transport the oil to Parkersburg, WV. Oil was transported mainly by the Little Kanawha River.
During the boom, the Civil War was in full swing. On May 9, 1863, Confederate General William Jones and his troops invaded the town of Burning Springs. Businesses and homes were robbed. Every oil derrick and oil boat was set on fire along with about 120,000 barrels of oil waiting for transport. The Little Kanawha River was in flames for miles, destroying house boats and timber along the shore. The Confederate Army did this to prevent the United States from collecting the tax from each barrel of oil.
After this disaster at Burning Springs, it was thought that the oil industry may be over here. However, the Rathbones and some other families persevered and had more growing success. The Rathbones eventually sold out in 1865 for $400,000. Hundreds more wells were drilled within the next few decades. A great deal of oil was still produced at Burning Springs until the late 19th century. Some oil is still produced today in some remaining wells.
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