Oil City to Franklin in Venango County
The Samuel Justus Trail connects Oil City to Franklin, on the eastern side of the Allegheny River in Cranberry Township. This is a remote rail-trail, with the river on one side of the trail and hillside with occasional farm on the other. This trail is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-16).
The trail is almost completely flat and runs about 30 feet above the river, affording good views of whatever is happening on the river. Birds and wildflowers are abundant. Several picnic tables, benches and historical markers provide excuses to stop and enjoy the views. There are three sets of mileage makers. One set measures mileage from the gate in Oil City, the second set measures mileage from the gate in Franklin, and the third set counts railroad miles, which start in Freeport at MP0.0 and end in Oil City at MP130. At any point on the trail the mileage from the Oil City gate plus the railroad mileage will always equal 129.2. At any point on the trail the mileage from the Oil City gate plus the mileage from the Franklin gate will always equal 5.6. This write-up uses the railroad mileages which are consistent with the mileposts on the trails to the south.
Samuel Justus Trail
Location Franklin to Oil City, Venango County
Trailheads Franklin, Oil City Wastewater Treatment Plant
Length, Surface 5.6 miles paved with parallel gravel road
Character Uncrowded, rural, mostly sunny, flat
Usage restrictions Horses okay, no motorized vehicles
Amenities Rest rooms, bike rental, food, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes north
This trail begins at the south end of the Oil City Wastewater Treatment Plant parking lot (MP129.2). An 8-foot wide strip of good asphalt runs along the former Allegheny Valley RR right-of-way, tucked between the south bank of the Allegheny River and a wooded bluff. A gravel road parallels the trail, but it’s gated at both ends.
Just before the gate (MP129.1) at the end of the of the sewer plant parking lot, there is a compact exercise course beside the trail. This course might be unpleasant to use if the wind is coming from the wrong direction (from the sewer plant).
At MP128.5 a large field with picnic tables lies between the trail and the river. Between MP126.7 and MP125.2 at least half a dozen oil pumps, some still operating, and several storage tanks are visible from the trail. Several are close enough to the trail that they can be inspected without encroaching on private land.
The most prominent feature of this trail is River Ridge Farm at MP124.5. This impressive mansion was built in 1913 by Joseph C. Sibley, who developed a formula for refining crude oil for use in railroad engines (Galena Oil) and later served five terms in the US House of Representatives. The estate originally included 21 other buildings, including a stone campanile near the river. This bell tower still stands, but the eleven bells have been removed. The entrance gate, with “River Ridge Farm” carved across the top, still stands near where a railroad siding served the estate. The estate is now (2018) partly farmland and posted against entry.
At MP124.4 power lines join the trail from across the river and follow it to the trailhead and beyond. The Franklin gate is at MP123.4. A short distance later a former bike shop is on the left and then the trail descends 10 feet to pass under the 8th St/US322 bridge. The sight lines here leave something to be desired, so caution is advised. After a short climb, the trail enters the trailhead parking lot. This lot is the trailhead for both this trail and the Allegheny River Trail (page NE-89) to the south. At the north end of the parking lot, an information center occupies the saltbox house.
The “salt box” house in the parking lot at the Franklin trailhead was moved there when it was rescued from a construction project on Liberty St in Franklin. This house dates to 1864 and is the only true salt box in the area. This architectural style is characteristic of certain parts of New England and is defined by the roof line, which extends farther down in back than in front. The restored house serves as a visitor and information center for the trail.
The Allegheny Valley RR was established to serve the oil industry, reaching Oil City in 1868. In 1910, it was incorporated in the Pennsylvania RR system, and it later became part of Conrail. Service ended in 1984.
Franklin’s history dates back to the early claims of French and English settlers and its strategic position at the confluence of French Ck and the Allegheny R. Its boom days, however, came in the 1860s with the discovery of oil near Titusville. A collection of large homes, in the Victorian style, dominate the side streets, dating to that period. Get a copy of the walking tour guide and cruise the back streets for an interesting architectural tour. The guide is available from the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, 1259 Liberty St.
The DeBence Antique Music museum is in Franklin, at 1261 Liberty St. It features an excellent collection of automatic instruments such as player pianos, player organs, and music boxes. Most of the instruments are maintained and are playable.
This trail is in the Oil Region National Heritage Area (), which includes all of Venango County, plus the towns of Titusville, Hydetown, and Oil Creek Township in Crawford County. It tells the story of Colonel Edwin Drake drilling the world’s first successful oil well in 1859, which changed the course of industry, society, and politics in the modern world. The Oil Region contains many remnants of the oil industry, as well as historic valley settlements shaped by native and immigrant populations.
Extensions of the ride
The next segment to the north along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is a seamless connection to the Oil City Trail (page NE-75) at the sewer plant.
The next segment to the south along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is a seamless connection to the Allegheny River Trail (page NE-89) at the Franklin trailhead.
From the Franklin trailhead, a trail into Franklin is marked as a bike path. It goes under the US322 bridge (going north), crosses the bridge on the bike/pedestrian lane, turns right/north on 9th St at the end of the bridge, goes through Riverfront Park on a paved path, goes up 9th St two blocks to Liberty, then continues on the sidewalk on the east side of Liberty, which is officially designated as the bike path to downtown.
The Allegheny River from Warren to Oil City and from Franklin to Emlenton is a National Scenic River.
Vicinity: Directions begin headed east on US322 from the bridge over the Allegheny River in Franklin. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go north on I79, east on I80, and north on PA8 to Franklin. US322 joins PA8 in Franklin.
Oil City Wastewater Treatment Plant (northern) trailhead: At the end of the US322 bridge turn left/north on Bredinsburg Rd. Go 4.7 miles and turn left/north on Deep Hallow Rd. Go 1.5 miles (the street name becomes First St) to the trail turnoff, which is marked “Samuel Justus Trail” and “Wastewater Treatment Plant” (this is just across from the entrance to Venango Campus of Clarion College). Turn left/west and follow the road along the sewage plant to park near the trailhead. This parking lot is also the southern trailhead for the Oil City Trail (page NE-75).
Franklin (southern) trailhead: At the end of the US322 bridge across the Allegehney River, trailhead parking is visible on the right. Access to the parking lot however, is about 0.1 miles farther along US322, it is marked by a sign for “Samuel Justus Trail”. This parking lot is also the northern trailhead for the Allegheny River Trail (page NE-89).
Rest rooms, water: No water, seasonal chemical toilets at Franklin trailhead. Seasonal rest rooms in Oil City at the PA Fish and Boat Commission access.
Bike shop, rentals: None.
Restaurant, groceries: Restaurants and groceries in Oil City and Franklin.
Camping, simple lodging: Motels and B&Bs in Oil City and Franklin.
Swimming, fishing: The Allegheny River has strong currents and power boats. Good fishing for bass and walleye.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing.
Wheelchair access: At the Franklin trailhead, park on the north side of the 8th St/US322 bridge, near the former bike shop, to avoid a sharp dip under the bridge. Aside from gravel in the parking lot, there are no problems.
Allegheny Valley Trail Association
Franklin, PA 16323
Maps, guides, other references
Trail brochure, Recreational Trails in the Oil Region, by Oil Region Alliance & Allegheny Valley Trails Association.
Self Guided Walking Tour of Franklin PA,
USGS Topographic Maps: Oil City, Franklin.
Text version of 20 Jul 2018 checked based on personal observation while bicycling Franklin to Oil City 3/2017. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 3/2017.