Sprague’s Super Service
first gas stations along Route 66 were simple curbside pumps
outside general stores. By the late 1920s, the Mother Road
supported stand-alone gas stations--usually two pumps beneath a
canopy with a simple office attached. Over time, gas
station buildings became more substantial. Sprague’s Super
Service in Normal, Illinois, may well represent the apex of this
By 1931, when William Sprague built his station,
most of the nation’s gas stations were affiliated with major oil
companies such as Pure Oil, Phillip’s Petroleum, or Texaco.
Architects for these companies provided functional, standardized
station designs. Drivers could glance at a white building
with three green stripes, for example, and know at once that
because of the recognizable icon it was a Texaco station.
Like other small entrepreneurs of the time, Sprague took a
different approach. A building contractor, he constructed his
large, unique, brick, Tudor Revival gas station using
high-quality materials and craftsmanship. The result, Sprague’s
Super Service, appeared to be part manor house and part gas
station, and sold City Service gas. Steep gables distinguished
the broad, red roofline. Substantial brick peers supported the
canopy. Stucco with decorative swirls and contrasting half
timbering distinguished the second story.
was important—just like brand-name operators, independent
operators had to create brand loyalty, even if their brand was
their individual operation. They also worked to promote their
identity as good neighbors and local producers, setting
themselves in opposition to corporations, which they defined as
large and impersonal. As road construction and automobile use
grew, so did a backlash against its commercialism and the
“ugliness” of commercial architecture. The Tudor Revival style
Sprague chose for his station, with its historical and domestic
overtones, helped to both establish a local, homey identity and
promote a conservative, rural aesthetic. In the depressed 1930s,
when gas far outstripped consumers, independent operators could
use this civic persona to help sell their gasoline.
Visitors can easily imagine the 1930s, when Chevrolets, Buicks,
and Plymouths pulled up under the canopy, and the station
attendant pumped their tanks full of gasoline at 10 cents a
gallon. After buying gas, travelers could step inside and eat at
Sprague’s restaurant or pull into the bay and have their cars
repaired. These enterprises occupied the ground floor of the
building. Upstairs, a spacious apartment, complete with a sun
room over the gas pump canopy, housed Sprague and his family. A
second upstairs apartment housed the station attendant.
Throughout the 1930s, most people passing through
Bloomington-Normal from north or south traveled Pine Street.
Traffic was heavy enough to support both Sprague’s and, just
across the street, Snedaker’s Station and Bill’s Cabins, another
1930s service station jointly administered with a lodging
operation. Pine Street’s heyday was short lived, though. In
1940, the new four-lane Route 66 opened around the east side of
Bloomington, siphoning through-traffic off of East Pine Street.
Some traffic still took the Business Route 66 into Normal, so
the station remained open, but the property changed hands many
times as each new owner sought business opportunities with more
appeal for local clientele.
The station was vacant for
part of World War II when gasoline and repair parts were scarce.
Beginning in 1946, immediately after the war, the owners still
sold gas and food, but they added other enterprises as well.
Over the years, Joe’s Welding and Boiler Company, Corn Belt
Manufacturing, Yellow Cab, and Avis Rent-a-Car occupied space at
Sprague’s. So did a bridal store, cake gallery, and catering
operation. Since the 1960s, these other enterprises have
supplanted the gas station function of the building; the pumps
were removed in 1979.
The present owner purchased the
building in 2006 and it was listed in the National Register of
Historic Places in 2008. Plans are underway to rehabilitate the
lower level of the station for use as a visitor center,
restaurant, tea room, and meeting and performance space. Grants
from the Town of Normal, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, and the
National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program
have helped to support the work. The owners would also like to
use the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit to help
defray the costs of rehabilitating registered historic buildings
in the project. The only Tudor Revival canopy gas station in the
State of Illinois, Sprague’s is a testament to sound
construction and local ingenuity.
Sprague’s Super Service is located at 305 East Pine St. in
Normal, IL and is currently used as a private residence.