representing God in places that have been burned by short booms and long busts
About 20 minutes from where I live, one can find the unfortunately named town of Pithole. At least one could have found the town had one been looking between January 1865 and August 1868. During these years, Pithole came to signify life in a boom and bust world.
After the first successful oil well was discovered on the bank of Pithole Creek in January of 1865, people rushed to the area seeking their fortunes. Some sought oil; others hoped to separate men from their new money. As oil boomed, so did the population, which grew to 2,000 by July of 1865 and nearly 20,000 by that December.
Within two years, the town counted over 50 hotels. Some were mere rooming houses. Others boasted luxurious amenities. By September of 1865, Pithole even had a three-story theater with seating for 1,100.
By 1868, however, two devastating fires, failing oil reserves, and a local financial panic had triggered a mass exodus, leaving only a little over 200 residents in the once-vibrant town. Pithole’s borough charter was annulled in 1877 and the land that had originally been sold for $100,000 and made its investors millionaires was sold back to Venango County for $4.37. Today, Pithole remains a quintessential ghost town.
Pithole is the most extreme example of the boom and bust economies that so often mark small and large places alike, especially in our country’s Rust Belt region. Where I live, the boom was oil. In other places, the boom was cars, steel, or (insert your local manufacturing plant here). You get my point.
All across the Rust Belt and much of rural America, work dried up or shipped out, sometimes down South, sometimes overseas. With the notorious exception of cities like Detroit, however, most larger cities were able to reinvent …