When did the first gas stations open in ? Where were they located?
At Plainfield, the construction of gasoline stations and the institution of paved roadways were inherently related. In fact, the establishment of the first gasoline stations at Plainfield was a response to the number of regional and national transportation routes that converged here during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Early Roads and Touring Parties
Since its inception, Plainfield lay at the hub of numerous regional roadways, including the Chicago-Ottawa Road, Plainfield-Joliet Road, Plainfield-Naperville Road and Plainfield-Oswego Road.
As a generation of Americans became captivated with the freedom afforded by automobile travel in the early 20th century, “touring parties” of motorists took to the road. Composed typically of young men and women with ever-increasing financial independence, the tourist groups began to make short day trips and longer excursions into the American countryside.
Unfortunately, few paved roads had been constructed by 1910, leaving many of the poorly-marked routes impassable many months of the year.
In 1912, an idea was launched that would establish the first paved, transcontinental highway in the nation, running from New York to San Francisco. Named “The Lincoln Highway,” the paved roadway would provide a well-marked route with appropriate amenities.
As automobile travel became more convenient in the early 1920s, streetcar lines—including the Aurora, Plainfield & Joliet Railroad—began to disappear. The increasing popularity of the Lincoln Highway led to an economic boom in communities both large and small.
In Plainfield, the newly designated route followed the main streets through our community. Within a few years of the route’s designation, local businessmen noted that—in a single day—as many as 125 automobiles passed through town. Many of those travelers stopped, supporting local businesses. New businesses opened, including confectionaries, restaurants, motor court cottages … and gasoline stations.
From Dispensing Station to Service Station
To meet the demands of a motoring public, gasoline was one of the first commodities sold along “The Lincolnway,” as the Lincoln Highway came to be known.
More often than not, those first “dispensing stations” in Plainfield and elsewhere consisted of one or more gravity-fed fuel pumps placed along the curb of an existing business or private home.
One of Plainfield’s earliest “dispensing stations” was a single fuel pump that stood in front of the John “Bert” and Sylvia McCulley home at the southeast corner of Lockport and Division streets (present day Lockport Street and Route 59). McCulley dispensed gasoline produced by the Texas Oil Co. (now Texaco).
Along Lockport Street, at least two other “dispensing stations” were also established by 1916.
A curbside pump at Allen’s Garage stood within eyeshot of McCulley’s curbside pump, less than a block away. Allen’s Garage, located on the south side of Lockport Street between Division and Illinois streets, also pumped Texas Oil Co. gasoline.
The other Lockport Street dispensing station was at the Rouse Brothers Garage between DesPlaines and Fox River Street. The Rouse Brothers first pumped Mobilgas (now Mobil) from its curbside “station” and, later, offered Sinclair gasoline as well.
Around 1917, the first, purpose-built gasoline station in Plainfield was erected at the southeast corner of Lockport and DesPlaines streets. The McCreedie Oil Co. was housed in a small brick sales office that incorporated a flat-roofed canopy supported by two brick piers. Beneath the canopy, motorists could fill their gas tanks, protected from inclement weather. The McCreedie station sold Penn Oil products as well as tires and other auto-related items.
Plainfield’s Response to a Motoring Public
As the numbers of highway travelers steadily increased, a gas station was erected at the corner of Division and Commercial streets about 1924. The small, wooden sales office also incorporated a protective canopy over the gas pumps. There, along The Lincolnway, Standard Oil products were sold.
About the same time, Maple View Farm Texaco Service opened at the northwest corner of Main and Division streets (now Illinois routes 59 and 126 and the site of a ).
Responding to weary and hungry travelers passing through Plainfield, the Maple View station opened with a small café, operated by Ella Klomhaus. It started as a gas dispensary and diner and was later enlarged to provide automobile repair in twin service bays.
As early as 1926, a Standard Oil “filling station” was operated by Ralph Moore where Lockport Street met Main Street. Erected at the one-time entrance to the abandoned Electric Park, the small brick building with three gas pumps housed a sales office and a public restroom. Located at the edge of town, this Standard Oil station was the first “urban” building that greeted motorists as they approached Plainfield from the west.
Meanwhile, several gas stations opened along the Joliet Road just south of the village limits.
A two pump station opened in a small wooden building on the west side of Joliet Road at Dillman Street. The small wood-framed building still stands today.
Margda “Helen” McElroy opened up a drive-in diner just south of the Plainfield Township Cemetery. Besides serving up fried chicken and homemade pie, the McElroys also dispensed gasoline from two pumps in front of their establishment.
Further south along Joliet Road at Renwick Road, John and Mabel Powell erected a diner in a whimsical building designed to look like a windmill. From beneath the windmill’s lighted blades and canopy, the Powell’s youngest son, Robert, dispensed Standard Oil gasoline from three fuel pumps.
In 1928, James Newkirk erected an elaborate, cottage-style station at the southwest corner of Lockport and Des Plaines streets. Originally, Newkirk distributed Standard Oil products at his station but, by 1932, the service station—with its painted, metal tile roof and white lattice, perimeter fence—was operating as a Texaco Station.
By the close of the 1920s, no fewer than 11 gas stations of all shapes and sizes were operating in and around Plainfield, with six stations alone operating along a five-block stretch of Lockport Street.
To learn more about the history of the Lincoln Highway and its Plainfield gasoline stations, you can join a May 19 guided bus tour between Plainfield and Aurora. Go to historywithoutboundaries@gmail for more information or to make a reservation.
Next Week: Good Eats
Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch at firstname.lastname@example.org.