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Culture Center opens oil and gas exhibit

Chip Ellis
Jack Bostic, Roy Dolin and David Hubbard move an old-style gas pump into the Oil and Gas Exhibit that just opened at the Culture Center. At the time, gas prices ran about 12 cents a gallon.
Chip Ellis Many colorful oilcans and oil dispensers are part of the exhibit.
Chip Ellis Charles Morris, the West Virginia State Museum's director, looks at a patent on display at the oil and gas exhibit.
Chip Ellis Betty Gay examines some early patents from the Acme Fishing Tool Co.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An exhibit about the history of West Virginia's oil and gas industry opened at the Culture Center at the state Capitol on Friday.

The exhibit features the state's leading role in developing the oil and gas industry in the United States.

Items on display include several old pieces of wooden and metallic equipment, colorful historic signs, photographs, patent application documents and video presentations.

Old wooden gas barrels, colorful metal oilcans and water/gas pumps built 100 years ago are eye-catching.

In the oil industry's early days, derricks dotted hillsides, surrounding people's homes, in towns like Pinch, Blue Creek and Parkersburg. One old photograph features them on a hillside in Stringtown in Tyler County.

West Virginia State Museum Director Charles Morris said oil was first found in this area of the state about 200 years ago, around 1810.

"A lot of the process of drilling for oil was developed in West Virginia. When salt works opened up in the Malden area in Kanawha County, people didn't know the about the use of oil, so it was just dumped into the Kanawha River."

Morris said the Ruffner family played a major role in the early development of oil drilling and extraction in West Virginia.  

The exhibit shows a variety of oilcans and "yellow dog" lanterns, which got their name because their two burning wicks resemble a dog's eyes glowing in the dark.

Antique signs in the exhibit came from companies including: the Southern Penn Oil Co., Eastern States Oil and Gas Inc., the Acme Fishing Tool Co. and Pennzoil.

One of the most interesting historic relics is an old-style gas pump from the 1920s, nearly 10 feet tall, that was used to fill up early cars like Model A and Model T Fords.

Randall Reid-Smith, commissioner of the Division of Culture and History, said his agency previously displayed exhibits about the coal, glass and chemical industries.

Reid-Smith said he is planning a future exhibit about West Virginia's timber industry,  

Caryn Gresham, deputy commissioner of culture and history, said many photographs in the current oil and gas exhibit "came out of our West Virginia Archives. Columbia Gas gave us a lot of items from their archives back in the 1980s."

Other items in the exhibit were borrowed from Parkersburg's Oil & Gas Museum.

David L. McKain and Bernard L. Allen recently published a book titled, "Where It All Began."

The recently published book, according to the Parkersburg Museum's website, "challenges Pennsylvania's longstanding claim as the birthplace of the oil industry. It chronicles the discovery of oil and gas and the development of the oil and gas industry in West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio from the mid-18th century."

The book emphasizes the importance of the Parkersburg area in the development of the oil and gas industries.

Gresham said her agency was happy to get the exhibit opened just before the Southern Legislative Conference began in Charleston this weekend.

The free exhibit is open to the public.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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