Great River Road, 2016

Standard Oil’s Company Housing in Wood River, Illinois

November 20, 2016

Last modified: June 28, 2019

Standard Oil Company was started by John D. Rockefeller in 1870 and quickly became the world’s largest multinational corporation. By 1906, Standard Oil Company had made its way to Illinois. The company purchased farmland on the east side of the Mississippi River. The company paid $57,600 to purchase the land in this rural undeveloped area, paying $200 to $500 per acre. With a total investment of $93,000, Standard Oil Company built an oil refinery in Wood River. Construction began in 1907 and it was completed later that year.1 Within a year, the Wood River Refinery produced heating oil, paraffin, kerosene, and asphalt. In the years to follow, due to increased demands from the automotive industry, the Wood River Refinery turned towards motor fuels.

By 1917, the company had run into problems keeping enough coal on site to power its burners. The company looked to purchase their own coal mine to combat coal shortages as well as offset the costs associated with importing coal from numerous independent mines. After looking at various locations, Standard Oil Company decided to purchase a coal mine in Carlinville, Illinois.2 Carlinville was conveniently located between the Wood River Refinery and a refinery in Whiting, Illinois. By 1919, Carlinville and Wood River would experience a boom in population that neither town expected. Wood River’s population grew from 84 people in 1910 to 3,476 in 1920.3 To accommodate the demand for housing for the coal miners in Carlinville and the refinery employees in Wood River, Standard Oil Company purchased 192 Sears, Roebuck & Co. homes for one million dollars.4

From 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold homes through their Modern Homes program. Through the years, Sears designed 447 different homes that could be tailored to each individual’s needs and budget. “Modern Home customers had the freedom to build their own dream houses, and Sears helped realize these dreams though quality custom design and favorable financing.”5 Sears, Roebuck & Co. was able to supply quality homes to Wood River in order to facilitate the growth in population.

Twenty-four of the 192 Sears, Roebuck & Co. homes were built in Wood River.6 All of these homes were built side by side on South 9th Street in the 100 and 200 block on the east side of the street. All but one of these homes still exist today. Below are the original 23 Sears, Roebuck & Co. homes as they look today. While there used to be 24 homes, the home that stood at 111 South 9th street was torn down. Below is a photo of the original home that stood at 111 South 9th Street as it stood when it was built.7 The homes are paired with the original concept design from the Honor Bilt [sic] Modern Homes catalog by Sears, Roebuck & Co. All photos are by the author unless otherwise noted.

Argyle

Carlin

Elsmore

Fullerton

217 South 9th Street
This is a customized Fullerton

237 South 9th Street
This is a customized Fullerton

Langston

Madelia

Arrow points to the original Madelia at 111 South 9th Street shortly after construction
Photo from Dale Haynes

Roanoke

Whitehall

Endnotes   [ + ]

1. Laurie A. Flori, Additionally Speaking: The Saga Behind the Largest Collective of Sears Homes in the World, (Carlinville, IL: Brown Paper Package Publications, 2005), 17: “British Petroleum: Wood River, History,” Web Accessed Nov. 2016.  http://www.bpwoodriver.com/site/history.php: “Big Oil Refinery to Be Built at Alton,” Decatur (IL) Daily Herald, March 7, 1907.
2. Flori, Additionally Speaking, 18.
3. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States 1910. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States 1920.
4. Katherine Cole Stevenson, House By Mail: A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1986), 21.
5. “Sears Archives: What is a Sears Home?” Web Mar. 2012, Accessed Nov. 2016. http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/
6. Rosemary Thornton, Sears Homes of Illinois, Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2010, 21.
7. Judith Chabot, http://sears-house-seeker.blogspot.com, noted that the original home that stood at 111 South 9th Street was originally a Madelia and that the house that stands at this location now is not a Sears home. Photo of the original 111 South 9th Street was supplied by Dale Haynes. Additionally, we had two unidentified models 251 South 9th Street (Carlin) and 237 South 9th Street (Customized Fullerton), which were able to be identified due to research contributed by Judith Chabot.
Cite this article: Nichol Allen, "Standard Oil’s Company Housing in Wood River, Illinois," Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois, last modified June 28, 2019, https://madison-historical.siue.edu/encyclopedia/standard-oils-company-housing-in-wood-river-illinois/.
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