What’s That: Murrysville marks site of natural gas discovery

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In 1878, Michael and Obediah Haymaker drilled a hole in Murrysville, hunting for oil.

Instead, they found gas, inadvertently turning the Westmoreland County town into the cradle of the natural gas industry in the early 20th century.

Today, that derrick no longer stands, but it is memorialized with a much smaller version, situated along Turtle Creek near the intersection of William Penn Highway and Gates Avenue.

The Haymaker brothers struck gas about 1,450 feet below the ground, and it roared from the ground for three years — including a year-and-a-half during which it caught fire and lit up the region for miles around — before being brought under control with a 45-foot smokestack, according to a narrative written by local historian Chuck Hall and submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1882, the Haymakers sold the well to the Keystone Gas Co.

The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission recognizes the well’s significance with a blue and yellow marker. However, the commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation deemed the site ineligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

“The Drake Well Foundation objected to it, saying that it was not officially the first gas well,” said local Murrysville historian Carl Patty. “But in actuality, it was the first commercial gas well in the world. Gas was transported from Murrysville into East Pittsburgh, because George Westinghouse wanted it for his plant down there, and then it went on to Oakland.”

While the exact location of the well isn’t known, a small derrick replica was installed by local Boy Scouts, and the state historical marker was installed in the 1960s.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .