Sunday, December 9, 2012

Historic Wisconsin Gas Stations

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Today, gas stations everywhere are mostly large convenience stores. They are very handy to pull up and pay at the pump and be on your way, but a lot of the history of America’s affair with the automobile has been lost. Wisconsin is no different, in that most of the small old gas and service station architecture has been lost.

Thankfully, there are a few wonderful people who long for the old days. They save these old buildings and collect gas memorabilia to display at their restored or recreated old time gas stations.

Whenever we’re near any of the ones we know about, we make sure to stop by for photos. We also take time to soak up the atmosphere. Many of these small old gas stations are reminders of the stations that we frequented when we first started to drive. I have fond memories of a little Citgo station at the edge of the business district in our home town.

The Texaco station in Independence was built by Leo Breska in 1931 when the old State Highway 93 was being improved. As roads were improved, it meant more traffic passing by and soon the town was supporting five gas stations.

The station was constructed with hollow fire-proof tiles and covered with stucco to give it a southwestern feel. It has rounded arch doors and front windows. It originally had one service bay at the back of the building, but eventually two additional service bays were added.

The station is now an auto-repair business and a used car lot. When it was just an auto-repair business, a restored Chevrolet sat in front of the pumps, but now used cars sit around the lot and it is harder to see the historic station or to get good photographs.

This small service station was a prefabricated building. It was manufactured by the Milwaukee Corrugating Company and shipped to Mineral Point in sections. It was assembled on site.

Josiah Paynter ran the station from 1925 until his death in 1934. His grandson, Chester Owens, took over and operated the station until 1940 when it closed because of wartime rationing.

We had driven past the Davis and Barnard Filling Station multiple times and had never stopped to photograph it. Often when that happens, it is because it is on a route to and from some destinations and we are always there at a bad time of day. Finally, on a late winter photography trip, we decided it was time to get a few photos before the station is no longer there.

This Tudor Revival cottage-style gas station was built in 1926. The single-bay service garage was added in 1930. The station was an affiliate of Johnson Oil when it opened. It managed to stay open through the Depression and World War II, but when the bridge over the Wisconsin River was out of service in 1946, the rerouting of traffic caused the station to close.

Since its closing, little has changed about the station. It still has the original wood and glass door and the stone veneer on the front and south side. The pit in the service bay has been filled in to make the building more safe and usable for other businesses.

We accidentally drove right by this small brick gas station when we went looking for it. We were talking, and soon we were past the furthest point I thought it could be. We turned around and found that we must have driven by almost immediately outside of town.

It is an English cottage-style station that had pumps outside. It was first a small gas station for Standard Oil, and later was also the office of the family-owned tourist camp. The tourist cabins are gone now, but the station stands as a testament to that time in our history when roadsides were dotted with these precursors of the mom and pop motels.

Freitag’s Pure Oil Station was built in 1935 by Clarence “Slim” Freitag, who was a big-band trombonist and a pilot who gave flying lessons to several Pure Oil Company executives. When Slim’s father, Henry, lost his part-ownership in an automobile sales dealership, Slim bought this corner lot and built the station for his father.

Henry passed away in the mid-1940’s and several people operated the station after that. One of those owners was Simon Meyer who ran it from the early 1950’s until the 1970’s. Shortly after it became a Union 76 station, it closed. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as an example of early twentieth-century architecture.

Early one morning, after Joann had read an article that the site of the historic Parman’s service station in Madison was going to be redeveloped, we visited to take some photographs. We wanted to get some pictures, since this is one of the oldest remaining gas stations in the city of Madison.

It was built by Clayton “Clayt” Parman in 1941. It was a box-like structure that combined the operator’s room with the service bays. It is covered with white stucco and has bright red trim and a flat roof.

This station had pumps offering full service until the pumps were removed in 1998 when expensive upgrades would have been required by law. The service business continued with Clayton “Junior” Parman Jr. and his brother Keith working at the shop daily.

We’ll continue our exploration of historic old gas stations as we travel around the country. It’s part of the fun of seeing what’s around the next corner or in the next town on the map. We hope you look forward to your travels the same way.

Happy Shunpiking!

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