Thorla-McKee Park


Junction of State Routes 78 and 564, East of Caldwell

North America’s first oil well. In 1814, settlers Silas Thorla and Robert McKee noticed that deer were licking a spot on the ground, and figured that it might lead to an underground deposit of salt.

Oil wasn’t of much use to settlers in 1814, but livestock needed salt and people needed it to preserve meat over the long winter months. Thorla and McKee drilled their well and did indeed find salt. But it was fouled with oil. The two men used wool blankets to soak the oil off the surface of the brine; wringing the oil out was a nuisance.

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The oil was later bottled and sold as Seneca Oil, a digestive elixir, among other uses. By the time oil really became valuable in America, Thorla and McKee were long dead.

The well was cased with a hollow sycamore log down to the bedrock, at a depth of about 18 feet. The sycamore log is 34 inches in diameter. In the center is the smaller hole that goes down from 30 feet to approximately 200 feet. Today, the original sycamore log can still be seen and the well continues to give oil, gas and salt water in limited quantities.

The Thorla-McKee Park was dedicated on October 4th 2014, during the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Thorla McKee Oil Well.