Soulsby Service Station
Mount Olive, Illinois
The advent of the national road system in 1926 ushered in a
golden age for mom-and-pop entrepreneurs. For Henry Soulsby of
Mount Olive, it happened just in time. Mr. Soulsby followed his
father, an Irish immigrant, into mining, but in the mid-1920s an
injury forced him aboveground. Understanding that a national
highway would soon pass through Mount Olive, he invested most of
his life savings in two lots at the corner of 1st Street, now
called Old Route 66. With the balance he built a gas station.
The Soulsby Station is an excellent example of a house
with canopy form. By the time Mr. Soulsby built his station in
1926, the leading oil companies had been hiring architects to
design stations that would blend well with neighborhoods to
minimize local opposition to the crudeness often associated with
gas stations. Mr. Soulsby designed the building himself, taking
into account these trends and blending well with the surrounding
Although the Great Depression soon began, the
station thrived. America was broke, but it was still traveling.
As Will Rogers would say, “We might be the first nation to drive
to the poorhouse in an automobile.”
When Henry Soulsby
retired, his children Russell and Ola Soulsby took over the
station, a partnership that would endure until Ola’s death in
1996. Each was as adept as the other at pumping gas, checking
the oil, and looking under the hood or chassis to detect and fix
problems. Russell always had an eye for technology. During World
War II, he was a communications technician in the Pacific
theater. Shortly after coming home, he turned his experience
into a second, simultaneous career--radio and television repair.
He used an antenna on the roof of the station to test his work.
Route 66 was a great agent of progress and development,
but its very success helped spell its doom. In the late 1950s,
Interstate 55 began supplanting it in Illinois. In Mount Olive,
the Soulsby Station ended up a mile away from the new
thoroughfare. In 1991, the Soulsby Station stopped pumping gas
but continued to check oil, sell soda pop, and greet the
ever-growing legion of Route 66 tourists. Sending everyone off
with a wink and a wave, Russell and Ola closed the doors for
good in 1993 and sold the station in 1997 to a neighbor, Mike
Dragovich. When Russell Soulsby died in 1999, his funeral
procession took him under the canopy one last time. This time it
was his friends’ turn to wink and wave.
owner, Mr. Dragovich, and the Soulsby Preservation Society began
preservation efforts in 2003, removing vinyl siding, restoring
the original doors and windows, and repainting the exterior. In
2004, the National Park Service provided grant support for
restoration efforts. Today, the station looks essentially the
same as it did during its post-World War II heyday. It was
listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
The Soulsby Service Station is located on the
southwest corner of First St. and Old Route 66 at 710 West First
St. in Mount Olive, IL. Plans are underway to open the station
as a museum.