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Seneca Oil Spring
1627 first petroleum discovered in America
1 mi. north 1000 yards east
By the State Education Department — 1932
What was there
This spring, long kept secret by the Seneca Indians who inhabited what is now New York State, produced a mysterious and magical substance which rose to the top of the water. Once discovered, the Seneca would travel long distances to dip their blankets in the substance in order to gather large quantities of it, and then wring the blankets into their brass kettles, collecting the magical thick liquid. They used this substance for medicinal purposes for everything from treating wounds to curing illness. They also found it was useful in making body paints, as well as adding it to fires and torches to make them flare. Once the oil was collected off the surface of the spring, there would be more to collect in about an hour.
In 1627, having gained the trust of these Seneca people, French missionary, Joseph De La Roche d’Aillon, was taken here to see the sacred spot. Father De La Roche blessed the spring and wrote a letter to his associates in France telling of this discovery. This event is the first recorded discovery of oil on the entire North American continent. Three hundred years later, in 1927, a monument was placed here to commemorate the discovery.
What is there now
The blue and yellow marker stands in an overgrown grassy area on the northwest corner of Rt. 446 and Rt. 50 in Cuba. The spring itself, the monuments, and the park celebrating it are located roughly 1/4 mile to the north on Rt. 50. A gravel driveway leads to a parking area where one can park and explore the peaceful, wooded grounds. The spring and the small monument celebrating the discovery of oil, are fenced off but easily accessible for viewing and photography. The entire area has been a one square mile Seneca Reservation since the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797.
Oil no longer comes from the spring.
A plaque, placed in 1927, on the 300th anniversary of the discovery, reads (in part):
Seneca Oil Spring
Its history forms the first chapter in the development of the petroleum industry in America – a gigantic world enterprise transforming modern life.
- Brief video explanation
- Although the state marker is in Cattaraugus County, the site of the spring itself is in Allegany County. The one square mile Seneca Oil Reservation is in both.
- In the spring of 2013, there was no evidence of the wooden cask pictured above. It is possible that it was merely below the water level at the time of our visit.
We would like to thank the following for helping us with this entry: