Preserving a Standard Oil Barn
Almost 500 community activists in Connecticut want help from the U.S. petroleum industry in preserving a Standard Oil barn. At stake is a Standard Oil Company of New York storage and distribution facility built around 1910 and now part of a city park.
“We are trying to save – again – what is probably the last circa 1900 horse drawn oil delivery facility in Connecticut,” noted Andrea Sandor in a January 30, 2018, email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Attached were documents about a Standard Oil Company facility in New Canaan at Mead Park, 64 Richmond Hill Road. Among the petitioners for preservation was Robin Beckett.
Beckett, who has lived in New Canaan for more than two decades, is committed to promoting the town’s “unique sense of place and character among the other towns in Fairfield County and the State of Connecticut.”
For years Beckett has advocated preserving the Standard Oil barn, a brick structure built by the company in circa 1910 — “a time when the company shipped kerosene from its refineries by rail car to bulk stations from where horse-drawn tank wagons distributed it to local hardware stores thence sold to the consumer,” she explains.
Beckett discovered many little-known details about the barn during her research to prevent its being demolished: The selection of New Canaan in 1901 as a site for Standard Oil’s kerosene and gasoline facilities made available to residents (about 2,000 at the time), “the opportunity to have a new fuel source and to have life-style altering modern age products.”
The 800-square-foot building is similar in design to a 19th century carriage house. Twenty-four acres of the Mead family land surrounding the Standard Oil property was sold to the town for one dollar in 1915 by the widow of Benjamin P. Mead, upon his death. It became a park in 1930.
During World War II, volunteer women sewed clothes for refugees and folded bandages there; the American Legion held meetings there after the war; the VFW Fife and Drum Corps and the Town Band practiced at the site; and the New Canaan Garden Center planted a Gold Star Walk memorializing war casualties.
“There is no other structure like The Barn in New Canaan,” Beckett maintains. It also could be the last remaining structure of its type and style in the state. She has located a 1927 Standard Oil Company of New York map of the barn’s site on Richmond Hill Road.
“The complex of six buildings that Standard Oil constructed in New Canaan in 1901 could be considered a precursor or early version of the now ubiquitous filling station thus yielding another piece of information about history,” she says.
The Barn is the last of the original six, “and now the structure, its cultural history — both local and in the context of the national history are understood,” proclaims Beckett. It was almost demolished in 2009 until a delay was granted by the Historic Review Committee. It has been used as a city garage most of the time since.
“I feel the town has a responsibility to listen to the nearly 500 petitioners who recognize The Barn’s historical significance and support it productive, adaptive reuse,” she concluded. Beckett also believes the building should be placed on State Register of Historic Places. The Friends of the Mead Park Carriage Barn launched their petition drive in 2010, according to the New Canaan Patch.
“We’re talking to different organizations and researching public and private funding for the renovation. Whatever its future use would be, if preserved and restored it would remain a piece of New Canaan’s history and past and that’s worth saving,” noted activist Mimi Findlay. The small community has been home to seveal leading petroleum industry executives (learn more in Oil Executives in Connecticut).
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.