The land that became Hi-Level started out as an oil boom town in the 1880s. Fern area residents struck oil 13 years after the world-changing discovery of oil made by Colonel Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania. “The valley that changed the world” would lead to changes in Fern, too. Our great-grandfather, Henry Hess, would marry a Scotch-Irish girl from Pittsburgh and later have eight children with her. Four sons would go into the oil business, and one into the military. One son, Ed, eyed the land around his homestead, with dreams of one day owning it and working the land.

Grandpa Ed Hess, who started Hi-Level Golf Course, was born in 1911. At age 15, he learned the oil trade from his father. The year was 1925. In four short years the Great Depression would take hold of the world. The work that was available in this region of Western Pennsylvania was oil. Lucky for Grandpa, he knew the trade well, and eventually founded his own business in 1944. Through a Great Depression and into a World War II, he had work, he employed many people, and was able to survive on his skills and the land’s resources.

Here are some of the photos we found from that era.

This is what today’s Par-6 #16 looked like about 80 years before the course was built, and less than ten years after Colonel Drake drilled the first oil in the U.S. in Titusville PA. Saloons lined Golf Course Road in Fern during those oil boom days.

Berlin family, Fern in 1886

Berlin family, Fern in 1886

Celebrating one-year-old Berlin baby's birthday

Celebrating one-year-old Berlin baby’s birthday

Barn at 14 in background

Fern, PA, snow. In the background is the barn at 14

Father and Son

Grandpa holds Dad beside their work truck in about 1942.

Working Man

Working Man–Dad gets into the truck circa 1942.


Taking a break from work and going hunting with his dog. Grandpa stands at what is now the driving range.

Oil Men

Grandpa Ed in the center with his friends/employees in the oil business.

Ed Hess, Oil Man

Ed Hess, Oil Man

Dad in 1942

Dad stands in the yard of the homestead in about 1942, with the oil trade in the background. Far in the back is Fern Trinity Church, which celebrated 125 years in 2020.

Grandpa at one of his oil and gas well drilling locations, sometime in the 1940s-1950s.

Football Days

Grandpa Ed in the back row, playing football in high school at Ashland School. His brother, Harry, is in the front row, third from the right. school, football, and then working in the fields when they got home.

1940s Oil days

Grandpa talks with a worker during the 1940s

Oil Working Days

Oil Working Days in the 1940s

Oil Working Days in the 1940s
Oil Guys