In 1906, Standard Oil engineers from Whiting Indiana trekked through fertile farmland nestled along the Mississippi River to select a site for a new refinery. With its proximity to Illinois oil fields, the growing St. Louis area and worldwide markets via the Mississippi River, this site would prove an ideal location. For nearly 75 years, the property was an active oil refinery, creating good jobs for generations of families and serving as an economic generator for the entire region.
Construction of the Wood River Refinery, named for a local stream, began in 1907 and was completed later that year. The first stills were put into production in January of 1908. Originally, the refinery mainly produced heating oil, paraffin, kerosene, coke and asphalt. As automobile production increased and the market for motor fuels increased, Standard Oil of Indiana focused on motor fuels, and the Refinery increased exports to Europe to meet the growing demand there. In October of 1911, the price of gas in Europe was 9 ½ cents. By 1913, motorists in Europe were paying up to $1 per gallon.
The refinery gave birth to the City of Wood River in 1909. Standard Oil went on to establish the first school, a municipal band, and a fire department.
As the refinery grew, the population of the area increased. Standard purchased more than two-dozen Sears catalog kit homes for workers in 1919. The 1920 U.S. Census cited Wood River as the fastest-growing community in the country. The close relationship between the refinery and the City was evidenced by the fact that the sports teams for Wood River schools were named the Oilers in honor of the industry that gave birth to their community.
In 1926, Standard Oil donated what was then the nation’s largest outdoor swimming pool, along with a community center known as the Roundhouse and a wooden band shell. A Standard Oil official was the first person to enter the pool. He also had the distinction of being the first person rescued from the pool. A poor swimmer, he wore a life preserver as he jumped into the pool. The poorly fitted preserver kept him face down in the water until rescuers pulled him out.
The refinery survived the lean years of the Great Depression to play a significant role in supplying fuel to the military in World War II. In 1956, Standard Oil became Amoco. The refinery continued to be a major economic generator for the region as thousands of workers provided good livings for their families. In 1981, economic circumstances forced the closing of the refinery. In the mid 1990s, the chemical additives plant also closed, leaving only a marketing terminal in operation. The terminal continues to operate to this day. In addition, businesses serving the barge and rail road industries lease space at the Riverfront and main plant respectively and continue to contribute to the local economy.
In 1998, Amoco merged with British Petroleum as part of the new BP, making BP the new steward of the property.
The closing of the refinery initiated nearly 30 years of demolition and environmental cleanup. To date, Amoco and, now, BP have spent well over $100 million on taking down the refinery and cleaning up soil and groundwater impacts from nearly 75 years of active industrial use.
In 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the refinery site as a National Brownfield Pilot Project, allowing this more than 800-acre site to be divided into smaller parcels to accelerate the process of cleanup and redevelopment.
BP set aside 30 acres in the southeast portion of the site as a wildlife refuge called Deer Park. In 2001, Deer Park earned official certification by the Wildlife Habitat Council, a national environmental organization created to promote setting aside industrial sites for wildlife. In 2007, Deer Park was named a Corporate Lands for Learning site because of its use as an outdoor laboratory for classes, students, and local organizations.
In 2002, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued the first two No Further Action Letters designating two land parcels as needing no further remedial action of soils and perched groundwater (groundwater trapped in soil pores above the water table). Since then, four more parcels have received No Further Action letters, with several more parcels under review.
While continuing to clean up the property, BP is actively seeking redevelopment and new utilization opportunities that will return this important historic site into productive reuse for the community.
In 2007, Deer Park received certification as a Corporate Lands for Learning site by the Wildlife Habitat Council as local schools began to use the site for student activities, including planting pollinator gardens.
In 2010, BP launched a multi-year pipeline investigation project to identify and then clean or remove underground piping throughout the site.
In 2011, BP donated property to the City for a water detention pond to relieve flooding in the community.
The 1920 U.S. Census cites Wood River as one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation.