Erin and I moved to this little town called Oil City, Pennsylvania in August of 2020.
Oil City is part of the Oil Heritage Region of Northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s called the Oil Heritage Region because this gorgeous and fertile valley that cradles the Allegheny River was also the birthplace of the oil industry– one town over, in Titusville, PA, Col. Edwin Drake drilled the first successful oil well capable of extracting oil on a commercial scale. (You can learn more about this by visiting Drake Well, a historic site, museum and park in Titusville that is dedicated to this history.)
When that was happening, back in 1859, it may not have been the most attractive area to move to, nor would it have had the freshest air quality. The valley, which was covered in forest, was mostly clear cut to build oil derricks, fuel steam engines, and make room for drilling. There was so much oil floating on the surface of the Allegheny River and nearby French Creek at times that the water caught on fire occasionally, burning down parts of the surrounding settlements.
But now, Nature has taken all that land back. She has regrown Her trees and cleaned Her water. Now, it is much more like it was before all that happened, when Native people lived here in tandem with the land and animals that were also once native.
There were a lot of reasons we decided to move to this particular place. For one thing, our families are both in this region. My mom’s family, in fact, is really from this region– my great great grandparents lived on an oil lease Titusville, which is about 14 miles from where we live in Oil CIty. Though I didn’t grow up here, the rest of my immediate family has since settled here, and it is definitely a place I feel comfortable calling home. At some point, I will share more about this family history, but for now, I’ll just say: family was definitely a top reason.
One of the other main reasons we moved here is that we both LOVE to hike and bike and kayak and just be in the woods breathing fresh air. Our house is just a block from both a trailhead on the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, specifically the Samuel Justus Recreational Trail and the Oil City Marina on the Allegheny River. How can you beat that?
This is how lucky we are: this past summer, we embarked on a 32 mile bike ride on the Justus Trail, which connects to the Allegheny River Trail, and rode to Emlenton, PA. That’s 32 miles on a lovely, paved trail that follows the River and winds through beautiful woodlands filled with animals (as well as some “ruins” of the oil boom days that are still scattered throughout the woods). There are some pretty great (and very long and dark!) old railroad tunnels we got to ride through. At one point, we were even in hot pursuit of a porcupine waddling down the trail! All we had to do was ride out of our garage and down a hill, and a couple hours later, we pulled into the Barnard House B & B where we stayed for the night and ate wonderful food prepared by the hosts. The next day, we rode the 32 miles back, rode up the hill into our garage, and we were home! A completely human-powered vacation!
A third reason we moved was for Art.
Oil City considers itself an art town. A decade ago, the city began a concerted effort to attract artists to this area to create, open galleries or small businesses, and to be a part of the community. The National Transit Building, once the headquarters for John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, is now where I and about 20 other artists have art studios, and the program succeeded in attracting over 40 or so artists over the years.
Erin and I moved here to be a part of that movement as well.
Of course, the world in the midst of a pandemic is not necessarily the time to be in close quarters, but the artist community here is still strong in spite of that. Though we aren’t able to spend much time together yet, we still have community at a distance, and we look forward to a day when we can have coffee together, create together, and give each other help and feedback, share experience or expertise, share tools and resources, etc.
As with most small towns across Pennsylvania and the country (and actually the world!) Oil City is in the midst of a revitalization. This once oil-focused town is working to transition itself into a sustainable city of the future, one that has opportunities for anyone who wants to find them, be they creative, business, or outdoor adventures.
One of the things I’ve gotten involved in since we moved here is the Arts Revitalization Committee, which is committed to trying to spread the world about what a great community Oil City is for artists. The cost of living here is still low. The place is absolutely, stunningly beautiful. And there are people here, ready to support and help anyone interested in relocating here. We have a lot of work to do, but that’s okay. That’s half, if not more of, the fun!
To that end, I’m going to leave you in just a minute with a video created by an initiative called Be Here Venango (Venango is our County). I have now watched this video about a dozen times, and it makes me tear up every time. Erin and I were even featured in the video which was pretty exciting! You can see me painting in my studio (I’m actually working on the St. Francis painting I shared in a previous blog!). You can catch a few glimpses of Erin as the Very Cool Bike Rider! Also featured is Core Goods, where I work part time (and my amazing boss, Ashley, who was/is a main force behind this video and the Be Here intiative), my friends Barbara and CJ whose business Century Arts helps people all over the country with home restoration and consultation (also, you can view some of CJ's gorgeous artwork here) This video features SO MANY cool people and places in our lovely rural small town community and a couple of surrounding towns that are--yes-- connected by the bike trail!
All this to say, we feel so lucky to Be Here. We love Oil CIty, and Venango County, and Western Pennsylvania. We love these woods, and these hills, and this river. We love the local art and music. We love the local shops and the towns along the river, strung together by a bike trail. We love the opportunities that surround us each day!
Maybe you would, too.
If you are at all interested in finding out more about our community, about becoming involved, or even about moving to this region and joining us in living, creating, hiking, biking, and more, please feel free to get in touch with me.
We might be waiting for you! Watch the video and see what you think!