The first white men to
trample on the land now called Sugar Creek were the people
of the Louis and Clark expedition to the West Coast via the
Missouri River on June 23 to June 25 in 1804.
In 1834 the Mormons, facing
persecution, fled Independence and camped along the bluffs
just west of the present day VFW before they could escape
across the river.
In 1849 an ox-drawn
railroad was built between Wayne City, a riverboat landing
about a mile down river from the creek, to the Independence
Square, financed by some Independence entrepreneurs led by
William Gilpen. The enterprise was the first commercial
railroad west of the Mississippi. Starting in Wayne City
the tracks ran west to the creek in between the bluffs. It
then turned south along the creek (now Sterling) for a short
distance to Elizabeth street. Turning east from there it
wound its way up Forest to Sugar Creek Boulevard, and where
U. S. 24 Highway and Crysler intersect is the only remaining
physical reminder of the old railroad. Behind the business
building now at 2421 U. S. 24 Highway is an earthen railroad
trestle. From there it snaked its way to where the
Independence Post Office is today, but there was a
turn-around and stable then. The oxen were loaded on board
so that the train could coast back down hill to the river.
When a sandbar and a plague in 1855 killed the project,
freight and passengers moved a few miles up river to a town
originally called Possum Trot (now Kansas City, Missouri).
The Civil War Order #11 screwed things up, Major Gilpin was
one of many to be run out, and later became Governor of
A county map drawn in 1877
showed the owners of Sugar Creek to be James Mallinson, 80
acres, J. D. Cusenbary, 160, J. Kronehart, 80, William
Chrisman, 90, I. W. Duncan, 220. J. Foster owned 59 and had
a house exactly where someday there would be an oil
In early 1889 oil was
discovered in southeastern Kansas and Northeastern Oklahoma.
In 1896 Standard built a refinery in Neodasha, Kansas.
Meanwhile electricity was replacing nasty-smelling, black
smoking, dangerous kerosene. In 1885 there were 250,000
light bulbs in use by Americans; by 1902, 18,000,000. Soon
only the country folk would be burning kerosene. Something
had to be done.
The oil fields back East
were playing out. South of Paola, Kansas, Oklahoma, and
Texas were like a mini Saudi Arabia. The oil was coming out
of the ground faster than the Neodasha refinery could
refine. In 1896 production was 500 barrels a day. By 1903
production had risen to 2,500 barrels a day while the oil
being brought out of the ground was as much as 13,000
barrels a day. Pits were being dug in roads and ponds were
made out of oil.
Standard was in the thick
of it. Two miles north of Neodasha, Mr. Rockefeller, Inc.,
bought 320 acres and spent 1.5 million on a tank farm with
40 tanks holding from 37,500 to 60,000 barrels. He soon had
$3 million worth of oil stored by Spring, 1904. To bring
the oil to the farm, pipe was laid by 400 skilled and
semi-skilled laborers. Standard would lay pipe to any rig
producing 50 barrels a day or more. That cost another
million. When, in 1900, Prairie Oil and Gas Co. was
incorporated, it was the point of the spear for Standard.
If you bought stock in Prairie you were okay but there were
some stocks that were worthless, like the Gold Standard Oil
Company of Arizona. But there were some people who made
money. George Banks, a farmer living near Independence,
Kansas, was making $100 a day from just three wells.
At that time, America was
an oil exporting country and 80% of the oil and gas was used
East of the Mississippi river. On January 24, 1904, it was
announced by Standard that a pipeline was going to be built
from the Kansas Oil Fields to the refinery at Whiting,
Indiana. The 700 mile 6-inch pipe would cost $4 million and
take 2,000 men 7 months to complete.
In February of 1904 a
stranger to Kansas City called Mr. Allen came to the Sugar
Creek valley and within 2 weeks bought 70 acres at $200
per, he said, for a dairy farm. Mr. William Mallinson sold
30 acres, George Collins 20, and Hugh McElroy 20, all of the
land east of the public highway which is now Sterling
Avenue, but for years would be called Fairmount Avenue.
On Tuesday, March 1, the
headline on the front page of the Kansas City Journal
announced the Birth of Sugar Creek. It read:
It wasn't announced to be a
site for an oil refinery, but for a railroad repair shop.
Since this area stayed above water in last year's flood, it
was the perfect place for something. By April the ground was
being cleared and locals began asking questions, like one
asked of Mr. J. D. Cusenbary, longtime resident, whose land
Fairmount Park was built on. “What's going on?” by a
reporter from the Journal. "My home is in the vicinity of
the land which Mr. Allen recently purchased, ostensibly for
dairy purposes, and I am in touch with affairs in my
neighborhood. While I do not know for certain that the
Missouri Pacific is the real purchaser behind Mr. Allen yet
I have reason to believe that such is the case." But he
went on to say that for the last several days people from
the railroad, along with several strangers, had been walking
among the hills and paying detailed attention to the
In 1903 the Missouri
Pacific Railroad bought 40 acres from Judge Edward Gates of
Independence. It was flat and didn't flood. Word soon got
around to what was really going on.
Meanwhile, back in oil
country, the good people of Kansas were getting teed off.
The price of oil Standard was paying recently dropped 20
cents a barrel to $1.19. Producers complained that they
were paying for the new refinery. On top of that, the $1
per foot first rumored for right-of-way turned out to be 20
cents per rod (16 1/2 feet). The whole price Standard paid
for pipeline right of way was only $11,000. But the farmers
were hired to build the pipeline. They worked in three
waves, first came digging a 1 foot to 5 foot deep trench
(depending on the terrain). Second came the crew laying the
210 miles of 8 inch pipe, last were the people to cover the
thing and stomp it down. Soon Standard put a cap on the
amount of oil that they would buy, from 1000 per district
per day to 600. It was to eliminate any competition. In
1902 an oil man with 27 years in the field back East named
C. D. Webster, came to Humbolt, Kansas and opened an
independent oil refinery to compete with the Standard Oil
refinery in Nevada. For a while things went fine, many
stores in Humbolt and the surrounding towns bought his
product at 20 cents a gallon. In May of 1904 well dressed
representatives of The Octopus, i.e. goons, came to the area
with a proposition the store owners couldn't refuse. Buy
from Standard or they will open a store in every town and
sell it for 5 cents a gallon. Soon Mr. Webster's
independent oil refinery was the pumping station for oil
heading for Sugar Creek.
It didn't take long for the
local investors to see opportunity. Filed on March 22, the
Sugar Creek Townsite Company Inc. What they did was pool
their money, $10 thousand, borrowed $20 thousand, and
purchased all of the land around the proposed venture.
Ten men bought shares at
$50, 200 shares were issued. T. T. Critttenden, Jr. of
Kansas City, led the way with a purchase of 70 shares,
while E. F. McElroy, a local, kicked in $500 for 10.
Article IV of the
incorporation documents stated that the corporation go on
for 50 years, which didn't happen. The town outgrew their
From the Jackson Examiner,
April 8, 1904 page 3:
A New Town Already
Started at the Oil Refinery Site now a Railroad Stop.
A new town is springing at
the mouth of Sugar Creek where the workmen are laying the
foundations for the big Standard Oil refinery. Electric
roads and county roads are headed for this point and there
will be a population of several thousand here within a short
time. The Kansas City Times of Thursday says, "The Santa Fe
railroad has a depot at Sugar Creek, the site of the
refinery to be erected by the Standard Oil Company. It is
only an old freight car but the officials say that it
fulfills its purpose more adequately than the Union
passenger depot used by the railroads in Kansas City. A
sign 'Sugar Creek' adorns the box car and trains stop there
regularly. The station will appear on the next issue of the
Santa Fe time cards."
"The Santa Fe has nearly
completed the 4,000 foot switch it is building at the
refinery site. Considerable material has been unloaded at
the site and two warehouses have been built and are now
loaded with the material which will be used in the
construction of the refinery. Active work has begun and
within six weeks 400 men will be at work putting up
In reality, there were many
more than that.
By June 1, 600 to 700 men
were employed and working ten hour days, six days a week.
First were hundreds of common laborers, paid 17 1/2 cents
per hour, led by W. A. Eaton, at 37 cents per hour, T. J.
Griffith, and W. E. (Whitey) Moore, earning 27 1/2 cents
per. There were 36 carpenters, 40 cents, and 19 carpenter
helpers, 17 1/2 cents, four water boys, fourteen people in
the office, and two messenger boys, all 17 1/2 cents. Ten
watchmen worked around the clock, seven days a week, some
working over 100 hours a week at 25 cents per hour. The
boiler shop had 235 employees, paying from 40 cents to
employee # 1169, Charles Mallinson, who was paid 14 1/4
cents an hour for seven hours on June 30, earning 83 cents
before quitting. Some didn't last that long, it was very
hot, dirty work. The masons, all 29 of them, were the best
paid, earning 62 1/2 cents an hour, for an eight hour day.
Helpers got 21 7/8 cents. The two men in the blacksmith
shop and three men in the machine shop earned from 35 to 20
cents. The pipe shop had 180 earning 30 cents to 17 1/2,
bringing the amount of money being dumped into the local
economy at around $30,000 a month. Cold beer was 5 cents,
and there were no taxes.
On June 23, Michael and
Sophia Onka, Mike being a former soldier in the
Austro-Hungarian army, bought two lots for $300 at 6%
interest on Evans Street, which was named after J. E. Evans,
the boss of bosses at the refinery. They opened a grocery
store and boarding house, accompanying up to 90 men, and
many watering holes and bordellos, along with barber shops
and cafes, soon lined the dirt street. There would be no
murders or cops; everything else was fair game. On July 6,
a quote in the Journal spoke of possible doom for the new
boom town. "Independence is casting its eyes towards the
Sugar Creek refinery. The refinery town cannot incorporate
because no town can incorporate within two miles of
another." The reason, taxes.
August began the selling of
stocks to the public from a number of oil related
corporations. Kansas Petroleum Company, on August 2, ran a
full page ad in the Journal with a photo of "THE GREAT
STANDARD OIL REFINERY NOW UNDER CONSTRUCTION AT SUGAR
CREEK." Stocks were offered at 5 cents per share. On
August 28, another ad promised that this was the last chance
to buy at 5 cents because on the first of September the
stocks would be sold at 10 cents per share. It was never
heard from again. At that time Standard Oil stock was
hundreds of dollars per share.
On September 26, the
pipeline from Humbolt to Sugar Creek was finished, and on
October 24 at 5:00 in the morning, the building of the
refinery was complete, with the first product being
Many of the men who worked
on the refinery were from the Whiting, Indiana refinery,
like Whitey Moore, who stayed here and raised a family that
turned out to be good plumbers and pool players. On January
5th, under the headline, "HELP SUGAR CREEK" since the $4
million refinery was growing even more money was to be put
into expansion. Already $1 million more had been spent.
Sugar Creek, then being called "The Oil City". Train
service known as the Sugar Creek and Maywood Railway
Company's tracks were lined with tank cars being filled for
the trip back east, the tracks creating a lake in Fairmount
named after a man named Crisp.
190,000 barrel storage
tanks were built. Six million gallons of water was being
used in October. By January, 1905, water usage was up to 12
million gallons, by summer 20 million was projected.
Already the plant boasted a gas plant, fire department, and
water works. Electricity would come later.
Rumor had it that the
refinery in Whiting was to be shut down as would rumors a
few years later about Sugar Creek. But it would survive for
75 years. Meanwhile, the once-tranquil valley, quietly
eroding over the eons, grew expeditiously into one hell of a
great place to grow up, producing a bunch of heroes. Best
of all, Fairmount Park is going to reopen, and be open for
30 more years. The best was yet to come.
Copyright © 2006 John M.Olinskey