When Albert Wilson (A.W.) Parks came to Oil Springs from Wisconsin in 1887, life was full of promise. The oil field was in its second boom and rail had arrived the year before.
He was 32, educated, well-to-do, and he came to help manage his father-in-law’s oil business. Henry Clay Crocker established it here decades before.
Crocker arrived in Oil Springs in the early 1860s, about the same time as J.H. Fairbank. They were about the same age and both were born American. Unlike Fairbank who was early to move to Petrolia, Crocker had faith in Oil Springs and stayed after the boom died in 1865. For years, he divided his time between Oil Springs and his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He then worked in Oil Springs but established his family home in Sarnia.
Crocker was a strong advocate of drilling deeper. It is said “he was probably the first man to realize why the Oil Springs production had petered out.” His patience was rewarded when deeper drilling brought Oil Springs a second boom of the 1880s. These wells were drilled 30 metres deeper than the deepest Flowing Wells, to the lower lime, and oil was found.
At one point, the wells on this property were so productive he was offered $90,000 for his holdings. He held out for $100,000. Crocker didn’t sell but later he likely wished he did. The wells, some producing pure oil, petered out.
A.W. Parks arrived in 1887 and six years later, Crocker died at the age of 64. Parks took over this business and later headed The Oil Springs Gas and Oil Company.
He came to Oil Springs with his wife, Ida Louise Crocker (Henry Clay Crocker’s daughter), and their three-year old son, Franklin Crocker Parks. His brother, Frank Parks, also came to work.
The Parks built a large house, the most luxurious Oil Springs house of its day. It boasted indoor plumbing, running water, two handsome fireplaces, a curved staircase, a trellised front verandah, seven bedrooms and an office. The kitchen counter was marble. Books lined a long wall from floor to ceiling. It would have its own water tower and ice house. A flower garden bloomed in profusion. A two-car garage was built. Considering the times and the place, this was indeed deluxe.
The house was known by several names – The Crocker-Parks house, Parks Dale, and the Parks’ House. It was so lovely; a postcard was made of the house sometime prior to 1910.
The couple had five more children between 1888 and 1898. Three of their six children died before the age of nine.
Parks & McCutcheon Family
Over the years, A.W. became a leading citizen of Oil Springs, becoming chairman of the school board, helping to plan the Oil Springs School, and managing the Presbyterian Church. He was also a high-ranking Mason and in 1900 he had risen to become the District Deputy Grand Master of the Sarnia Masonic District.
The times proved challenging for the Parks when oil production dropped substantially by 1900 and despite some wild successes in gas wells in 1914, they were not sustained. When he died in Oil Springs in 1937 at 82, A.W. Parks had outlived his entire family except his 42-year old daughter, Alberta (Parks) McCutcheon.
Alberta & Edna Irene Parks
She and her family lived in Detroit and they returned to Oil Springs in summers until the late 1950s. The eldest son, Franklin Crocker Parks, frequently brought his family up from Washington, D.C. for holidays too.
A.W. Parks hired Jack Hull to manage the oil property in the early 1930s. The upstairs of the house was converted into an apartment with a separate entrance and the Hull family lived upstairs from the 1930s to the end of 1944. Along with Jack was his wife, Dolina (nee MacLeod), and their children: Peggy (Melton), Norma (Simpson), Agnes (Cameron) and Ted. Peggy, the eldest child, lived in the house from the age of one until she was 10 (1935 to 1944) and has detailed memories of the family’s days there.
Money was scarce. Jack Hull decided that with a wife and four children to feed, he had to find a better paying job. And so he went to work in the foundry at Edys Mills. Milton Wagner took over and the Parks business went rapidly downhill.
Phil Morningstar says the oilmen would warm up in the fully furnished but abandoned house. Unoccupied homes rarely fare well. Eventually, the unoccupied house fell victim to vandals and partiers. It was taken down around 1965, before Alberta McCutcheon’s grandson sold the property to Don Matheson, a cousin of the Hull children.
It has been said that the McCutcheons had long been reluctant to sell the property for they believed that a wealth of oil and gas could be found there one day.
Fairbank Oil bought the property in the late 1980s, and later bought the adjoining oil property from Don Matheson. Wells, once engulfed by the woods, were put into production. Roadways were made, power installed and later, the nature trail bridge was erected. Like the other wells in Oil Springs, these continue to steadily produce small amounts of oil.
Most of the Parks family is buried at the Oil Springs cemetery.