In consequence of the Bald Ridge Oil Developments
elsewhere mentioned, a thriving oil town has sprung
up during the present year on the land of D. A. RENFREW,
in the northwestern part of the township.
Simeon NIXON was the pioneer settler of the place, and opened a
boarding house here in January, 1882. Lots were laid out
in April, and speedily a number of buildings were erected.
Renfrew City has since become a railroad station; has
a post office, three hotels, five stores, several groceries,
and the usual industries of oil towns. It is a young but
very active village."
History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895
Penn Township, Chapter 34...
Renfrew may be called the capital of the Bald Ridge district,
at one time one of the famous oil fields of the world, and to-day the possessor
of many fair wells. The history of the locality begins in the thirties (1830), when
William PURVIANCE, the old surveyor of Connoquenessing township, discovered
an unpatented tract of thirty acres near or adjoining his entry of 212 acres.
The Connoquenessing flowed through the tract, and it appeared to the surveyor
as a property worth possessing. He applied at once for a patent, and the
application was granted in 1838.
Two years later David A. RENFREW
and settled here, and built a
saw-mill in 1844 and a grist-mill in 1868.
Seeing that this tract of thirty acres was unimproved, he and a man named
DODDS took possession of it, paid the taxes, made sundry improvements, and
considered themselves the owners of the land. In September, 1882, their ideas
on this point were rudely shaken, for it was then known that the capital of Bald Ridge
was certainly an oily land, with millions in it.
The Legal Battle over Land
The heirs of William PURVIANCE appeared on the scene, and a legal battle to
decide the true ownership resulted. Another surveyor, N. M. SLATER, of
Butler, discovered an unpatented tract of six acres in 1881, and became the
owner, but sold to J. D. McJUNKIN; so that between the PURVIANCE heirs,
the later patentee, the occupying owners, and the owners of oil leases,
it was difficult to decide in whom the title rested at the close of 1882.
The matter was carried into the Butler county courts, and thence to the
board of property. Senator HERR, W. H. LUSK and Miss Dott PURVIANCE
represented the PURVIANCE heirs; while J. M. THOMPSON, W. D. BRANDON
and Thomas ROBINSON appeared for D. A. RENFREW, Robert DODDS, Porter
PHIPPS and SIMCOX & MEYERS, the improvers and occupiers.
The board decided the title to be in the heirs of William PURVIANCE.
The subject, however, was far from settlement, for physical
and legal contests ensued until the courts finally sustained the
claim of the occupiers. In April, 1883, D. A. RENFREW employed men
to take possession of the house tenanted by the PURVIANCES, and a pitched battle
ensued. The sheriff came upon the scene and drove off the invaders; but on the
4th of April a second and successful attack was made, in which Miss Dott PURVIANCE received
An Oil Town Booms Overnight
In January, 1882, Simeon NIXON established a restaurant, and was considered the pioneer
of the village. Renfrew City was located in April, 1882, on part of the RENFREW farm,
bordering on the creek. PHILLIPS Brothers began drilling on the farm at that time;
while the SIMCOX & MEYERS wells close by, the McCONNELL well on the MILLER farm,
and the purchase of John KALTENBACH's farm at $100 per acre and one-eighth royalty,
attracted speculators and the oil world in general to the spot. By the close of
August a town appeared in the wilderness.
Three houses were hauled from Millerstown, Karns City and Petrolia, over the
Narrow Gauge railroad, to Renfrew,and set up as a bakery, a machine shop and a
On August 23, about eighty lots were sold and twelve leased, the selling price ranging from eighty
dollars to $200 each.
Businesses Move In
NIXON'S OCEAN DINING HALL
W. W. PATTON HOUSING erected the first building, for hotel or
boarding house purposes;
W. W. WOOD GROCERYS-SIMCOX & CAMPBELL the second, on lot 8, half of which
was the grocery store of W. W. WOOD (who came here from Bullion),
until his own building would be completed, while the other half was given up to the hardware
stock of the owners.
JOHN GLASS GROCERIES, of Millerstown, erected the third building,
for the purposes of a grocery store, in the middle of August, 1882.
W. H. EDWARDS' BLACKSMITH/MACHINE SHOP
WAHL & BISHOP GROCERY STORE that of Fred BROWN
MOREHEAD & LARDIN-the livery barn
LEVI R. McFANN LIVERY STABLE
H. M. SHAW's BAKERY, east of Bridge street
IRELAND & HUGHES' MACHINE SHOP west side of Bridge street
My grandfather's white house the left
DICK'S BARBER SHOP
MISS SADIE KING's RESTURANT
east of NIXON's "Ocean Dining Hall"
THE RAILROAD DEPOT on the RENFREW donation
JERRY WILLIAMS' shanty, near the depot
J. E. COULTER'S BUILDING, moved from St.Petersburg
D. W. ROBERTS'LIVERY STABLE, opposite WAHL & BISHOP's store
In 1882 he located at Renfrew, and embarked in the
livery business, which he still continues(1895)
He is also identified with the oil interests of his locality,and is a part owner of an oil well.
JOHN McGEE's TENT buildings here in August and September,1882
F. H. BROWN was appointed postmaster in August, 1885, vice H. W. KOONCE
JOHN A. RICHEY, opened a hotel at Renfrew, which he carried on for five years, and then returned to Butler
DAVID STEWART erected a hotel in 1884, which was burned soon after,
TWO YEARS LATER-1884
and the present RENFREW House built
PRICE & TILLINGHAST's MACHINE SHOP was opened in 1886,
and carried on by the firm until 1891, when Allen C. PRICE became sole owner
R. M. BOWSER established his lumber business in 1884
John H. WALKER, a carpenter, came in 1887
James PATRICK, the present postmaster, established his store in 1888,
and subsequently was appointed postmaster
John D. BARNHART established a boilermaker's shop in 1889
Henry J. VAN DYKE came to the village the same year, and also opened a
boilermaker's shop. Both of these are still in operation
DOCTORS-Dr. John Calvin CORT
Dr. H.S. McCLYMONDS
John Y. Bowser's homestead along the creek in Renfrew,
Harold's grandfather;typical housing
S. MARKWELL, James PATRICK and A. D. SUTTON,ANDERSON BROTHERS, general merchants;
The Mercantile Circle in 1894
Dr. H. S. McCLYMONDS, druggist
Wonderful articles on the town's people and places-
Photos of the Brass Band and the Baseball Team
Times gone by-Frank Bowser
not related to Harold Bowser
Davi Renfrew Oil Rig documented in the Library of Congress!
My Genealogical Work