Emlenton would appear today to a visitor unaware of its past as a quaint, quiet little town with a picturesque assortment of Victorian folk cottages clinging to its hillside, a view of the river below, and a just a hint or two as to why God ever put it there. An old steam-powered wood mill can still be seen on Main Street (As Shown To The Right), the last of the mills which once were a substantial part of the town’s nineteenth century economy.
The Allegheny Valley Railroad once came up from Pittsburgh on its way to Oil City, Warren and beyond. Tank cars filled with crude oil destined for Rockefeller’s refineries in Cleveland and the East Coast commonly passed through Emlenton in the 1870′s. Flat cars filled with rough cut and finished lumber were shipped both north and south on the railroad. Out on the river, large rafts, some as much as 300 feet long, consisting of 80 to 100 foot white pine “sticks” would float downriver on the high water of springtime.
Local investors, including James Bennett and Marcus Hulings, established a narrow gauge railroad in 1877 which traveled east to present day Knox, then Shippenville and Clarion. The objective was to gather the lumber, farm produce, coal, limestone and oil from Clarion County and deliver it at Emlenton to the Allegheny Valley Railroad. This hard working little railroad climbed out of the valley bottom by way of Hill Street passing just under the covered verandas of the millionaire’s homes above, to disappear along the right of way you can still see lead into the woods. The line was quite prosperous, but it was bought and dismantled by a rival rail line originating in Foxburg just down the river.
Hill Street became the street of elegance, wealth and power in Emlenton. Near the east end of Hill Street at 304, you can see today the Second Empire residence (As is Shown To The Right) built by Eben Crawford.
The elder Mr. Crawford was an oil man and a principal in the Emlenton Gas Company, one of the earliest natural gas companies in the country. Eben Crawford’s son, George, lived for a time in this house after his father’s passing. George eventually became Chairman of what we know today as the Columbia Gas System. After a time, George lived in Pittsburgh , but he maintained this second home in Emlenton.
His younger brother, Carroll, maintained a residence in the Queen Anne next door at 306 Hill Street. Carroll Crawford was also prominent in the natural gas industry. Unfortunately, Carroll Crawford, already a widower, died at the age of forty-four leaving three young children as orphans. George Crawford, their uncle, had the children taken to Pittsburgh along with their governess, Mother Woodford. George maintained a suite of rooms in the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. His brother’s children resided in his William Penn suite. George, the children and Mother Woodford would return to Emlenton by train on weekends.
At the other end of Hill Street, the west end, at 617 stands a Queen Anne residence which Harry J. Crawford built in 1903. H. J. Crawford was the first cousin of Eben Crawford’s sons. Harry was a particularly successful oil and natural gas producer at the turn of the century. He and several partners gained control of the Emlenton Refining Company located just up the street and along the river. Eventually, the Emlenton Refining Company became the major constituent of the Quaker State Oil Refining Company. H. J. Crawford remained in Emlenton all his life. Also widowed at a young age, he raised two teenage daughters in this Hill Street home. A man of great wealth, he was known for his simple, frugal way of life and his generosity toward the community he loved.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS (to Emlenton): Interstate 80 to either Exit 42 or 45, then Route 38 to Emlenton. An alternative route from Pittsburgh would be Route 8 to Butler, Route 68 and 268 to Parker on the Allegheny River, then Route 268 north along the river to Emlenton. Much of this old route takes you through nineteenth century oil fields.
“A Stroll Through Historic Emlenton”, 1997, Emlenton Civic Club.
Barnard House (B&B) 109 River Avenue (724) 867-2261
Several motels on nearby Interstate 80
The Foxburg Inn, Foxburg (724) 659-5701
The Old Emlenton Mill Company Main Street (724)867-1141
Five floors of original machinery and artifacts: Tours by appointment
For Information on the Emlenton Area
Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism, 217 Elm Street, Oil City, Pa. 16301-1412 (814) 677-3152, Email: email@example.com
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