Smoot readies doc debut

PARKERSBURG – A documentary inspired by a local historian’s book on the oil and gas industry will be shown next month at the Smoot Theatre.

“Burning Springs” will be shown at 8 p.m. May 3 with a reception preceding at 7:30 p.m. at the Smoot. The reception and premiere are open to all.

Tickets are $15 per person. For more information or tickets call the Smoot at 304-422-PLAY (7529).

Dave McKain, local historian, founder and curator of the Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg and author of “Where It All Began,” the inspiration for the historical video, will introduce Diana Sole Walko, owner of Charleston-based MotionMasters, producer of the video, who will give a brief presentation prior to the showing of the movie.

Copies of the DVD and the book that inspired it will be available for purchase. The DVD is $25, the book is $40.

The hour-long video presentation which explores the history of the oil and gas industry in West Virginia was unveiled on some West Virginia PBS stations in early March.

The documentary’s producers said the video was inspired by McKain’s book.

“This really is such an honor and the main theme is to reaffirm the place that Burning Springs and West Virginia played in the history of the oil and gas industry. The video is beautifully done. It’s a very professional piece,” McKain said of the hour-long video.”

“The video has been well received and we’ve gotten a lot of good comments on it,” McKain said.

The documentary explains the salt industry of the Kanawha Valley provided many of the tools, techniques and tradesmen for the oil and gas industry. Wells were drilled at Burning Springs to produce brine which was evaporated to produce salt. The oil was, at first, considered a nuisance but soon was being sold for use in oil lamps.

Once its value was realized, widespread drilling began and the boom town of Burning Springs was born.

The Burning Springs wells produced and sold oil many years before the famed Drake oil well was drilled in 1858 at Titusville, Pa., long thought to be the birth of the oil and gas business.

Professor Bernard L. Allen and McKain published “Where It All Began” in 1994. The book is based on years of research from diaries, deeds, tax records, archival photographs, documents and maps, many of which are used in the documentary. McKain’s great-grandfather participated in the early oil boom.

McKain’s 476-page book took Pennsylvania’s long-standing claim as the birthplace of the oil industry to task, chronicling the discovery of oil and gas and development of the industry in West Virginia and southeastern Ohio from the mid-18th century.

Allen was a history professor at the West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

“I’m a student of West Virginia history and have produced several documentaries for broadcast on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. When I read David’s book, I was fascinated. Although I’m a state native, I had very little knowledge about the significant role our state played in the development of the oil and gas industry. So I did some additional research. I ordered every documentary I could find about the oil and gas industry and none of them gave even a passing nod to events that occurred here. That’s when I knew: I had to do this piece,” Walko said.

McKain is among the featured historians in the hour-long video. Four of the five are published authors and the fifth interview is with the curator of the Drake Museum in Titusville.

The video also looks at the first assault on an oil field in world history when Robert E. Lee ordered Confederate Gens. William “Grumble” Jones and John Imboden to conduct a raid during the Civil War. During the raid, they burned the oil field in Burning Springs.

Parkersburg and the surrounding region are prominently featured in the film. The documentary takes its name from the phrase that Indians and early settlers used to describe the naturally occurring seeps where oil and gas bubbled up from beneath the surface.

And the town of Burning Springs in Wirt County plays a significant historical role as well.

Using excerpts from actual diaries from the period, the producers used voice actors to relay the events of the Confederate raid on the oilfields at Burning Springs.

The documentary is narrated by Nashville musician Lionel Cartwright, a native of Glen Dale, W.Va. It was edited by Parkersburg resident Wesley Poole, a videographer and editor who has worked at MotionMasters for more than 15 years.

Poole also shot portions of the video, including some re-enactors in Civil War era clothing and uniforms.

“It was a really interesting piece to do, ” Poole said. “Whenever we do these documentaries, I learn a lot of history – and this one was particularly interesting since Parkersburg figures so prominently in the storyline.”

“We want people to know about West Virginia’s leading role in the (oil and gas) industry,” Walko said. “It’s important to stake our claim in history.”