The City of Oil City in its early decades was awash with places of business.

There were more than 125 retail operations within the city limits that encompassed both sides of town.

Some proprietors conducted business out of their homes and they were scattered throughout Oil City’s neighborhoods.

Many others boasted their own buildings or leased shop space in prominent sites in the city’s business districts.

A quick look at city directories from 1880 through 1930 shows an extensive listing of small businesses.

As examples, there were 15 hotels or boarding houses, 21 confectionery shops, 7 ice cream parlors, 14 dry good stores, 15 meat markets, 49 grocers, 27 boot and shoe shops, 9 clothiers, 21 paint and wallpaper stores, 8 restaurants, 3 book and stationery stores, 6 bakers and dozens and dozens of barbers, dressmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths and many others.

The S.V. Seaton & Son store was located on East First Street and was regarded as one of the largest general stores in the area. The elder Seaton was in the oil business for most of his life but also owned and operated the store in partnership with his son. Advertising shows the store sold, at wholesale, “flour, feed, lime, salt, cement, sewer pipe, seeds, etc. etc. etc.” One advertising blurb noted: “It is sometimes styled as the Wanamaker of Oil City, as here you can find almost any article of merchandise and at astonishing prices.”
Alvin Drake Deming was a leading photographer during the early days of oil and maintained a studio on Center Street. The nearby building with the fancy roofline was known as the Mercantile Building and it housed a variety of small businesses. Fazello “Fid” Bishop was store manager and later appointed by President Lincoln as the first Postmaster of Oil City. The building with the tower in the far left was the first church for Trinity Methodist. Capt. William Hasson gave the land to the congregation when they bought an old church in Pithole and reconstructed it on Center Street.
The Rialto Restaurant, located on Seneca Street just up from the bridge, was a popular Oil City eatery. One of its promotions was that it provided “special accommodation for ladies.” Open night and day and offering an elaborate menu, it also featured a lunch counter.
George Steffee owned and operated a grocery store at 6 Seneca St. at the entranceway to the Oil City Petroleum Bridge, now Veterans Bridge. His store featured a prominent pinnacle atop the roof.
The S.W. McCuen men’s apparel shop, described in early histories as “one of the widest known merchant tailoring establishments in northwest Pennsylvania.” Located on Seneca Street, the business featured large plate glass windows in order to showcase his elaborate displays. The shop had one of the largest stock of woolens found between Pittsburgh and Buffalo and boasted a tailoring staff of 25. It offered exclusive men’s lines for hats and shirts and promoted special summer sales of men’s bicycling and golf suits made up in the “most fashionable Scotch plaids and English homespuns." Suitcases could be bought in English leather, hog skin and alligator hide. The store’s motto: Your money back if goods do not suit.
Advertising covers the exterior of the Thomas J. Wright Wallpaper-Paint store on Seneca Street on the riverbank where the former Holiday Inn sign was located. The West First Street resident eventually sold his business and became an oil producer.
O.E. Reynolds had a paint, wallpaper and glass store on Seneca Street. He is credited with providing the materials and the work for interior painting and stained woodwork at the new National Transit Building and the Oil City Hospital. His work was considered to be of the highest quality.
Moore Brothers Wholesale business on East First Street was owned and operated by brothers Frank and Chester Moore. The business featured wholesale and retail ice cream sales with products delivered by horse-drawn wagon.
This parade on Seneca Street shows the intersection with Center Street. Both streets were filled with a variety of retail and service businesses. The roster included the Joe Levi Boots and Shoes shop at the corner and the adjacent Bartholomay Rochester Beer business. Ludwig Meyer, a German immigrant and maker of rye whiskey, was the manager. An upper story window on the left touts Dr. August Morck, optician, inventor of the single lens bifocal.
James Booker was born in England and served in her Majesty’s army in India. In 1883, he immigrated to America and came to Oil City where he apprenticed in the metals business. He opened Booker’s Oil City Tin and Sheet Iron Works at 226 Seneca Street and gained a reputation as one of the most expert tin and copper workmen in the region.
Cornelius Tyson owned and operated a confectionery & stationery shop at Sycamore and Railroad streets. Earlier, he had managed the Exchange Hotel in Franklin and the Allegheny Hotel at Foxburg. After working as manager of a large hotel in Atlantic City, he came back to Venango County when the hotel closed and opened his store in Oil City.
Peter Bradley operated a furniture store at 2-4 Main Street, located at the end of the Center Street Bridge. It offered furniture, undertaking and handmade mantles.
James W. Kerr and his son James S. Kerr owned the Granite and Marble Works at Main and Relief Street. Between 1875 and 1898 the company installed more than 500 monuments in Grove Hill and St. Joseph cemeteries. The duo received monument orders from across the country. Two examples of their artistic work include the angel on the Griffith monument and the Kramer mausoleum at Grove Hill.
Koos Drug Store, owned by druggist Emile A. Koos, was located on State Street. He was chief clerk, advisor and friend to owner William Krosskop and when the original owner died from injuries sustained in a fall, Koos was his successor. His family home is now the location for the Venango County Historical Society in Franklin. The two buildings next door were damaged when dynamite near the bridge exploded. Shattered windows and frayed curtains can be seen in this photograph.

Written by Judy Etzel with research by Kay Dawson and design by Natalie Cubbon.


Oil Region Alliance

Belles Lettres Club of Oil City

Gates & Burns Realty

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