The owner of the restored Howlett Gulf Station in Park Hills has applied to be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Gene and Annette Fritsche bought the building in August of 2015 and decided to restore it to its former condition. The idea was to return everything on the property to how it may have looked in the late 1940s when it was Flat River Oil, also known as Howlett Gulf. The restoration is complete with all the original building components still intact. Fritsche even installed restored Gulf fuel pumps that match that particular era.
The history of the building goes back to 1913 when an entrepreneur by the name of J.C. Laird purchased the land next to the Union Pacific train line and started the OK Oil Company.
Laird operated the business until 1931 when his son-in-law, Wayne Howlett bought the building from him. Howlett had worked for Laird at the station prior to purchasing it. Howlett had just married Laird’s daughter, Lucille, and after purchasing the property he began growing the business.
After the business outgrew the original structure, major additions were added in 1949. The original shop then became the office area of the building.
Howlett and his wife Lucille had three children, at least one of whom worked at the station with him. Ronny Howlett worked at the station until joining the Navy in 1955. The station was then leased to Lonnie Strickland until Ronny Howlett’s return from the service in 1957. Wayne Howlett work alongside his son until his death in 1976.
The last day of business as Flat River Oil/Howlett Gulf was Dec. 31, 1991.
Later, the building was rented by the Howlett family to a Zippy Lube shop, followed by a tire shop. It sat vacant for years until being purchased by the Fritshes.
The application for consideration in the Historic Registry involved Fritsche demonstrating the historic community and architectural value of the building. According to Fritsche, this included gathering as many documents as he could find regarding the building’s history.
Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of documents or photos to be found but Fritsche was able to confirm names and important dates by acquiring old phone books from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He was able to confirm other details about community value by speaking with the wife of Ronny Howlett, as well as, others who knew the Howlett family and did business at the station.
Fritsche received tremendous help from others in his efforts to restore the building. He said people such as Larry Kernan, Bobby Vineyard, Gary Nekula, Todd Mahaney, and Harold Weems all aided in the restoration. Fritsche said the Howlett family deserves the most credit for helping to bring the idea to life.
Fritsche hopes to hear back from the National Registry regarding a decision for listing within a month.
The Gulf Station is located on Main Street in downtown Park Hills across from Riverside Grill.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at email@example.com.