Cherry Grove and the 646 Mystery Well

(Adapted from Ernest C. Miller's The History and Development of the Petroleum Industry in Warren County, Pennsylvania 1859-1959)

               In the early days of oil, people had to choose where to drill with very little scientific knowledge about the geological formations beneath the land. Surface signs, superstitions, and sheer guess-work determined where a well would be sunk. Sometimes it succeeded, but often it was dry.  In the mid-1870s, an oil man named Henry Landsrath decided to apply science to the sinking of his wells. He studied the rock and soil samples pulled from various oil wells throughout the region, and from these, he believed he could determine that a rich oil field existed somewhere between Kane and Warren. Landsrath sunk four wells, but did not succeed in finding oil, and did not have the money to continue drilling. However, an oil operator named Dimick asked Landsrath where he would have sunk another well. Landsrath told him he would have placed a well on the northwest corner of tract 646 in Cherry Grove.

               In 1882, Dimick began to drill on tract 646. Curiosity about the well ran high, Dimick did everything possible to keep people away, and to trick them into thinking the well was dry. Because of this, the well eventually became known as the 646 Mystery Well. News of a successful well would have caused land prices to go up and other people to begin drilling nearby. Although the well did produce oil, the owners tried to trick people into thinking that it did not by pretending to “shoot” the well with nitroglycerin.  Nitroglycerin is a very explosive substance, often used in the oil industry to help a well to flow. However, instead of nitroglycerin, the owners of the 646 capped the well and used water.  Word quickly spread that the well was almost dry.

               However, by mid-May people could see the well was flowing oil, and on May 23, the 646 Well was producing over 2,000 barrels of oil a day; a tremendous amount. An incredible boom followed.  By September of 1882, 171 wells had been drilled and 116 others were being sunk. In the area, communities of over 6,000 people sprang up almost overnight. Oil flowed so quickly that it spilled out of the tanks, and the “Tionesta Creek often flowed oil instead of water.”  But by September, many wells were beginning to run dry.  When the oil vanished, so did the money, the towns which sprung up around it, and the men. By the end of 1882, less than a year after it all began, the famous 646 Mystery Well was producing less than one barrel of oil a day.  The boom was over.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society