Oil spilled from W.Va.’s largest well once reached Ohio River

David Sibray explores the capped Copley Oil Well near Weston, West Virginia.
David Sibray explores the capped Copley Oil Well, struck in 1900 near Weston, West Virginia.

Here in meadow along the upper reaches of the Sand Fork of the Little Kanawha River, it’s hard to imagine that there was ever more hustle and bustle than the crow of a rooster.

Copley today is a quiet place, but as with much of West Virginia, one might be hard pressed to imagine that things were not always as they seem.

A vintage photo of the Copley Farm oil well captured plenty of activity.

On September 22, 1900, drillers struck what soon proved to be West Virginia’s largest producing oil well.

More than 7,000 barrels a day blew out of the rig that day on the formerly pastoral Copley Farm, and another 4,800 barrels continued to bubble out daily for many days afterward, sending workers with the South Penn Oil Co. scrambling to contain the flow.

Dams were constructed downstream on the Little Kanawha River, but even at that, the oil soon reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg, West Virginia, more than a hundred miles away, as the river winds.

The Copley Farm soon became a hub of activity, and the quiet little valley was soon filled with the noise of industry and with enormous tanks of oil.


Today the two-lane road that leads along the fork between and has returned to its scenic state and provides for a peaceful afternoon’s drive. A historic marker stands in a little meadow and designates the site, and only a few dozen feet off stands a capped well — a mute reminder that all in West Virginia is not what it once had been.

The site is relatively easy to find. From Weston, follow U.S. 19 south five miles to a right turn onto Copley Road, then follow the latter nine miles.

Our thanks to of Weston for sponsoring this story.


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