Jarrett had some time off for Easter break last week, so we thought it would be fun to take the kids on a family field trip and learn a little more about Pennsylvania’s oil history. Two summers ago, Jarrett had taken his scout troop to visit Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville: He was so impressed with the museum and grounds that he knew we would love to go as well. And as a homeschooling family, it was also the perfect opportunity to expand on our PA history lessons!
So you might be wondering what’s so cool about the Drake Well Museum and Park? Much like the famed “Gold Rush” brought fortune seekers to California, the 1859 discovery of oil in a little western Pennsylvania community turned the whole region into a boomtown. Today the museum and park preserves the birthplace of the modern petroleum industry while chronicling its history. If you would like to tour both the museum and grounds, you will want to budget about three hours for your visit.
After paying admission ($10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 3-11, $8 for seniors), the park attendants recommended that we start our visit by watching the short movie outlining the advent of the petroleum industry in Pennsylvania. Don’t let the movie theater’s diminutive size deceive you! The theater featured some special effects that made you feel like you were part of the movie–it was entertaining and educational! (Hint: Someone will leave the theater a little wet!)
From there you enter the museum exhibit area, which takes you on a journey through the history and science of petroleum. The center’s tagline is “There’s a Drop of Oil and Gas in Your Life Every Day!”–and by the time you leave the exhibit, you will see why. I was really impressed with the layout of the museum and the presentation of material. It was a great balance of artifacts, information, and eye-catching displays.
I also loved how the exhibits intermingled hands-on-activities that kept the kids engaged in the learning. After taking the kids to various museums over the years, we’ve learned that not all museums are created with children in mind. At the Drake Well site, though, it is clear that the designers planned the museum with kids as one of the target audiences. While wandering through the displays, kids will have the opportunity to “be an oil chef,” drill for oil, load oil cargo, and witness a lively debate over oil monopolies.
After you finish touring the museum, you can then head outside to explore the grounds. The hallmark of the site is a replica of Edwin L. Drake’s engine house and derrick, which houses the famous oil well that launched the modern petroleum industry in 1859. It also features working replicas of the wood-fired boiler and steam engine that would have been used to drill and pump oil.
The park’s outdoor exhibit runs from May through October, and during those months visitors can watch as oil pumps out of the well and into barrels. Across the property visitors can also view the network of rod lines as they push and pull pump jacks while the oil “barker” rings out across the valley. During our April visit they had not yet restarted the well engine for the year (during the winter months it can’t operate due to the cold temperatures), so we plan to return later this summer when we can see it in full operation.
Whether you live nearby or will be passing through the region in the future, the Drake Well Museum and Park is a fun stop to learn about a pivotal point in America’s history while deepening your appreciation for something we use every day.
To learn more about other unique places to visit in Pennsylvania, check out our other articles, including: