Pithole, Pennsylvania: Oil Boom Ghost Town

Following its recent use in a reference request, the title The History of Pithole by Charles C. Leonard, has been digitized and published online. It is now available to read or download through the Lehigh Digital Library.

View of Holmden Street in Pithole, PA circa 1866
View of Holmden Street in Pithole, PA circa 1866

Historical Background

In the mid-19th century, Pennsylvania was undergoing a massive push for oil. As oil rich areas were discovered, towns and cities would spring up in support. One such city was Pithole, Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1865 as part of the regional oil boom. At its peak between 1865 and 1866, Pithole was home to over 20,000 residents, many of whom were housed in the city’s 54 hotels. The city also boasted Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, a daily newspaper, and a 1,100 seat theater.

Following major bank collapses caused by oil speculation and a series of highly destructive fires, Pithole shrank drastically.  By December of 1866, the population had dropped over 90% to around 2,000. By the time Pithole was unincorporated as a city in 1877, the population had dropped further still to 237.

Today, Pithole is owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and is home to the Pithole Visitors Center, which is managed by the Drake Well Museum. Pithole is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The History of Pithole

Pithole title page
Title page of The History of Pithole

While the city of Pithole, PA is now mostly an historical footnote, Leonard describes it in the preface as, “No town or city in the world has ever had so remarkable a history as that of Pithole. Its rapid growth, the amount of capital expended, and the fortunes realized here,—its numerous and monster wells, have had no equal since the world began.” This can largely be interpreted as hyperbole but it demonstrates the novelty and momentousness of oil extraction during the mid-nineteenth century.

The body of the book is split into two sections, the first being a history of Pithole and the second a collection of less serious anecdotes concerning the city and its residents. The history section provides an overview of the various petroleum companies active in the area and describes the different oil wells and their unique locales. This section goes into great detail concerning how the wells were constructed, how much oil they produced, and why they were of significance.

Leonard continues the hyperbolic language from the preface by describing Pithole as “Like Rome, sits on seven hills and from its throne of beauty rules the world. This quotation and comparison is not correct, but mistakes will happen in war time.” (P. 35) This section provides listings and descriptions of many of the utilities and businesses operating in the city. Indicative of Pithole’s ultimate demise, Leonard dedicates an entire section to fires. By his account, 17 fires occurred in and around Pithole between August 1865 and December 1866 resulting in damages to oil and property totaling nearly $2 million.

The second section of the book is largely farcical and satirical. It opens with a story titled “Discover of Pithole, in 1865, By Mr. ‘Pit’,” which once again comically exaggerates the cities origins and importance.  Other stories include “Remains of Mastodon found on  Holmden Street, 1866,” “A Prize Fight,” “War and Bloodshed,” “Ghost No. 1,” and “Ghost No. 2.” The first ghost story alludes to men drinking at night by describing “a fearful and marrow-freezing sound similar to the smashing of bottles and tumblers….Wild shrieks of demonical laughter, accompanied by a hiccoughing sound suggestive of taking poison….” (P. 74) The other stories are similarly tongue-in-cheek.

The final eight pages of the book are advertisements for supposedly oil rich real estate, a bank, the post office, a drug store, a stable, a hotel, the Pithole Daily Record newspaper, and finally a printer. The newspaper boasts a daily circulation of 1,500 copies.

Lehigh University’s Special Collections specializes in the history of technology, an actively growing collection with frequent additions. New and interesting material will continue to be featured on this blog, so check back for updates. If you have any questions or would like more information, contact Special Collections by email at inspc@lehigh.edu or by phone at 610-758-4506.


Leonard, Charles C. The History of Pithole. Pithole City, Pa.: Morton, Longwell & Co., Printers, 1867.

Sonnet SLAM! with Shakespeare’s Folios















Literature aficionados around the world gathered on April 21 st to honor William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. Events were hosted across the world, especially in the English speaking countries. At the Globe Theater, they had a 2.5 mile interactive course of short films called “The Complete Walk.”
Prince Charles attended a televised performance about the Shakespeare’s life at the Royal Shakespeare Theater.

While Lehigh is across the ocean from Shakespeare’s home turf of England, we still have enough reasons to celebrate his life and works. Here at Lehigh University, we honored William Shakespeare by hosting a Sonnet SLAM! in Linderman Library Bayer Galleria. Attendees could choose to listen to the sonnets, or read one aloud. The event was an open-mike, open to everyone to recite one of their favorite sonnets, or one they wrote themselves.

Special Collections displayed all four of the Shakespeare’s Folios owned by Lehigh. They were showcased only during the event. Since Shakespeare’s death (also thought to be around the time of his birth, as well) coincides with National Poetry Month, Lehigh was able to honor both occasions at the Sonnet SLAM!

The Sonnet SLAM! was sponsored by the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries and the LehighUniversity Creative Writing Program.

To learn more about the Lehigh’s Shakespeare Folios, read “The Shakespeare Folios and Forgeries of William Shakespeare’s Handwriting” or contact Special Collections.

Armistice Day

Now known as the Veterans Day, “Armistice Day” was declared as a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson to celebrate the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). Members of Lehigh University participated the World War I in many fronts, many lives were lost. To show the appreciation to their services and to honor their memory, Lehigh University dedicated the Alumni Memorial Building to “commemorate the services and sacrifices of Lehigh Alumni and undergraduates” in the World War I.





A Lehigh Cyclist



Around 1890, this stylish Lehigh student was seen on his Velocipede riding around the Campus –Chemical Laboratory (now Chandler-Ullmann Hall) and (possibly) Hydraulics Lab (gone by the early 1900s) are on the background.

That is a bicycle, not a unicycle–look closely and you will see a small second wheel in the back. This type of bike is called a “high wheeler” for fairly obvious reasons. It came about around 1870 and bicycle makers just kept making the front wheels bigger and bigger as they realized that with a larger circumference, the wheel would travel farther with one pedal revolution.

The first American cycling company didn’t come about until 1878, with Columbia Bicycle. The company was based at a sewing machine factory, and each high-sheeled bike cost $125 while a sewing machine cost $13.

This man was likely the focus of much of his classmates’ jealousy with his expensive bicycle, though we’re not sure how he got around efficiently with all of the stairs. He must have broken a sweat riding up the hill, too, but Chandller-Ullman isn’t so high up.

With Lehigh’s Master Plan involving letting even less cars on campus, bicycles may soon be the only option left for students who are always rushing between the buildings. Who knows, though–with Lehigh’s “pedestrian campus,” they might not want cyclists, either.


On the South Mountain Halloween Meant House Party!

By Guest Author Arielle Willett, Class of 2015

This upcoming week begins final preparations not only for the next round of four o’clocks, but also for Halloween, one of Lehigh’s most deeply rooted traditions.

In the past, Halloween was one of the most celebrated holidays on Lehigh’s campus, second only to Le-Laff Weekend and House Party (or Houseparty). Fall House Party took place around Halloween, so that the Fraternity Houses were decorated accordingly*. Nowadays we celebrate around campus with decorations and pumpkins, but back in the day it was a full blown campus wide event- there were parades, dinners, and dances, and students went all out to win decorating competitions between residence halls: “The men of Taylor plan to transform the section E lounge into an orbiting space station, where they can spend the “Evening on the Moon”. The void of space will be filled with stellar sounds taped and recorded prior to blasting off.” -Brown and White, October 30th, 1959

Greek parties were brought down to campus as students dressed in masks and costumes flooded down from the hill spookily, in many cases even bringing the festivities to South Bethlehem residents. The administration was in on the festivities too, bringing in Halloween themed speakers and sponsoring Halloween performances in Packard. Halloween was the number one party theme for fraternities. Check the digital archives of the Brown and White for the historical coverage of these amusing events.

Halloween is still one of the most emphatically celebrated holidays on campus, and with a history like that it’s no wonder why.

*Brown and White Vol. 67 No. 11: HP (i.e. House Party) Goers Will Whirl In Hellish Atmosphere (1955-10-28)


Victory Peace Reunion 1919: World War I Peace Celebrated at Lehigh

A Day that Will be Remembered in History

On June 28, 1919, Lehigh University held its Victory Peace Reunion in celebration of the end of World War I and in mourning of the alumni who gave their lives in service to the country. According to the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin article*, Lehigh was the only University to hold a peace celebration on this day, the same day as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Every class from 1870 to 1919 was represented in the attendance for this event. There was an event known as the P-rade that is one of the most remembered events during this celebration. Each class marched with its class flag while returning veterans held American flags and their squad numbers. The air was filled with cheers of “Lehigh! Victory!! Peace!!!” That night, the entire student populace and the returning alumni witnessed Lehigh defeat Lafayette four to one in a baseball game. The next day, memorial services were held at the chapel. Many who attended these two days said that this event would be remembered forever.


Lehigh Alumni Bulletin, volume 7, issue 1, August 1919

*LTS and Special Collections are proud to bring you digital archives of Lehigh’s historical publications such as Lehigh Alumni Bulletin (1913-1951), The Brown and White (1896-2012), The Epitome (1875-2008), Course Catalogs (1866-1994). Contact Special Collections to access to these and many other significant collections.

What is a THATCamp?

THATCamp, short for The Humanities and Technology Camp, is part of the unconference movement.  It is open to anyone with an interest in the Humanities & Technology (both broadly defined).  THATCamps are informal and active- there are no presentations, presenters, or audiences.

But what will we talk about?  That’s the best part!  The participants will decide the agenda the morning of the unconference.  Once accepted to a THATCamp, participants may pose discussion topics that interest them-  usually at the intersection of Humanities and Technology.  The group will vote and set the schedule.  For more information on or examples of  proposals, please visit THATCamp Lehigh Valley.  So come prepared to chat, teach, make, or play on March 1-2, 2013.

In addition to the unconference day, there will also be a series of workshops, which are designed for those with an interest in DH (Digital Humanities).  Workshops are designed as introductions to these tools.  There will be two large group sessions- Introduction to WordPress and Project Management.  Participants will also choose one small group session on Digitization 101, Academic Blogging, Mapping Your World, or Omeka.  For a full description of each of these workshops, please visit, THATCamp Lehigh Valley.

Registration will open Jan. 3, 2012.  It is free to attend with the generous support from Friends of Lehigh Libraries, the Humanities Center, Faculty Development, the College of Arts and Sciences, and with the support of a Core Competencies Grant.

Still a bit unsure about THATCamp, please contact Jessica (jea211) with any questions.  Or check out our copy of Mob Rule Learning by Michelle Boule.  Boule’s work examines the philosophical underpinning of the unconference movement.

In Brief:

Who: Faculty, Students, Cultural Institutions, Archives, Libraries, and Technologists

Where: Lehigh University

When: March 1-2, 2013

Registration: Jan. 3, 2013



The Brown and White on Presidential Elections

Four years ago today, the Brown and White’s front page headline read as: “Obama Wins Election and State”

The Brown and White digital archives is a rich resource for researching the presidential elections as well as many other political topics. It’s a true treasure for understanding the students’ perspective of the political climate in different decades. Users can search, browse, read, save and/or print articles from the digital archives of the B&W which hasn’t ceased its publication since it’s start in 1894.

The current Brown and White can be read in print and online at: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/thebrownandwhite/

You can also follow the B&W on Facebook and Twitter.


Introducing ASA 2.0: A New Library Search and Discovery Tool!

In recent years, Lehigh Libraries has been focusing on innovative services through adopting open source software solutions to build a next generation library environment.  A first step in the direction of more dynamic user-centric offerings was the introduction, in January 2011, of a new Library website built upon the Drupal content management system.  Also, the Libraries is a founding partner in the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) project, a two year project funded in conjunction with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop community source software for academic libraries. Now, Lehigh Libraries is pleased to announce another initiative with the potential to transform the Library experience for our users: ASA 2.0, a next generation search and discovery tool for Library resources.

ASA 2.0 Search Results Page
ASA 2.0 Search Results Page

ASA 2.0 is powered by VuFind, an open source discovery technology developed under the leadership of Villanova University. With VuFind, ASA 2.0 has the potential to do more than search and display for the Library catalog.  ASA 2.0 incorporates many innovative features to allow users to query and browse multiple Library resources in a simple, yet sophisticated, manner.  Some features of ASA 2.0 include:

*Faceted Searching. The user starts from a basic search box and then can narrow down the results by clicking on various facets of the results such as Format, Language, Author, Genre, Era and Region.

*Live Record Status and Location. Enables the display of current holdings information.

*My Account. Logging into “My Account” allows one to check the status of a library account, request items from the library, and renew items that are already checked out. Also, the user may “tag” records with descriptors for easier retrieval, and mark titles as “favorites.”

* Persistent URLs mean that you can bookmark any search result URL that can be used over and over, presenting the same or updated results, if new collections have been added since your last access

*Saved Searches. The user may save resources from both the search results page and from the record view page to their own custom lists.

*Citation Management: The user may export records to citation management software like RefWorks, EndNote and Zotero.

*”Similar Items”. When viewing a record, the user will be offered suggestions of resources that are similar to the current resource.

*Browse for Resources. The user may browse the catalog and explore what the library has rather than only being able to see a very narrow spectrum of results.

ASA 2.0 is currently in BETA mode. This means we are still actively developing and soliciting feedback from our Library patrons. For the time being, the ASA Online Catalog Search on the Library Website will remain unchanged.  But, we invite you to take ASA 2.0 for a test run or, if you like it, bookmark ASA 2.0 as use it as your primary discovery tool for the Library catalog.  In either case, please take a moment to share your feedback by completing this short survey about the new ASA 2.0 Online Library Catalog Search!


Digital Library Featured in The Telegraph

Last month, Lehigh University’s Digital Library was featured in The Telegraph as part of an article titled, “The Best Online Culture Archives.” In this article, Florence Waters used the recent launch of Google Art Project as an opportunity to reflect on the state of digital archives, citing 15 projects as particularly innovative and useful. Waters included Lehigh’s I Remain among this list, describing it as a “lovingly-compiled collection.”

Interestingly, many of the other sites included in the list are much larger scale projects than the relatively modest collection of letters and ephemera that constitutes I Remain. However, this site compensates for its small size by the depth and quality of its contextual information, exemplifying Lehigh Digital Library’s niche within an environment which includes an increasing number of mass-digitization projects.

Much of the “love” Waters referred to in her article came from Megan Norcia, who organized and annotated the collection, while serving as our 2004-2005 CLIR Fellow. However, there were many others who collaborated in establishing this collection, including faculty, librarians, library staff, and students. For more on this process, see Megan’s article, “Out of the Ivory Tower Endlessly Rocking.” The site has continued to grow since its establishment in 2004, not in the quantity of digitized materials, but rather in the contextual information about those materials. This has included video documentaries, faculty research, and external scholarly contributions.

Please visit I Remain and our other Digital Library Projects and let us know your suggestions for supplementing and expanding the resources and contextual scholarship presented there. We are also always eager to hear ideas for new projects as well.