Henry Warren Lancey
H. W. Lancey
Oil pioneer, merchant, and real estate developer
Among Petrolia’s early
settlers there were few more entrepreneurial, or indeed, more visionary than H. W. Lancey. Born April 5, 1826, in Pittsfield, Maine, Henry Warren Lancey grew to manhood in that locality and attended local schools. In 1857, he married Lydia Emmeline Drummond,
also a native of Maine.
Shortly after their marriage the couple moved to Portland, Maine where Mr. Lancey was successfully engaged in a wholesale hardware business for a number of years. However, in 1865, he, like many others, was attracted to the oil
boom in Lambton County. Consequently, the couple arrived in Petrolia later that year and Henry was soon heavily invested in oil production and farm land, meeting with such success that within a few years he was counted among the area’s largest
During the late 1860s Lancey also became a shareholder in an English oil syndicate known as the Western of Canada. This also proved fortuitous because just 12 years later he sold his holdings in that company for a reputed $250,000, a
veritable fortune at a time when few earned more than $1 a day. While many would have taken their newly-found fortune and left for a more metropolitan area, Lancey envisioned great prospects for Petrolia and decided to re-invest his acquired wealth in
his adoptive home.
During his early days in Petrolia, Lancey also joined a number of other prominent oil producers in founding the Consumers Oil Refining Co., which erected one of the town’s first oil refineries and of which Lancey was named president
and held that position nearly to the time of his death. He was also chairman of the Mutual Oil Association, one of Petrolia’s several nineteenth-century oil cartels.
Along with his refinery holdings and oil properties, which at one time encompassed
more than 200 producing wells, Lancey was also interested in developing and improving farm land and accumulated more than 1,000 acres in the area.
In July, 1871, Lancey purchased the assets of the Crescent Petroleum Association. The deal included 190
acres of land southwest of Bear Creek with several dwellings upon it, a number of steam engines, oil rigs, tubing and other petroleum equipment. It was on a portion of this land that Lancey decided to develop an upscale subdivision with the street pattern
replicating one the New England villages of his birth place. He aptly named the development Crescent Park and this attractive enclave soon became the aristocratic quarter of Petrolia where many of the local oil barons and business magnates would settle
and build elegant Victorian homes.
As many know, the first three streets encountered when entering Crescent Park are Henry, Warren and Lancey Streets, which of course he named after himself. The others, which include Emma and Ella are named in
honour of his two daughters and Emmeline Street was named in honour of his wife (Emmeline being her second name). He too built an elegant Victorian home in Crescent Park which remains today as one of the town’s more prominent designated heritage sites.
It has been beautifully restored and is today the home of Martin and Dorothy Dillon.
In 1881, to meet the growing needs of Petrolia’s burgeoning commerce, Lancey erected a fine brick commercial block on town’s main street, one of the first
substantial brick buildings west of Bear Creek. However, because Petrolia’s development, up to then, had been in the East End, the decision was much derided by a number of the town’s sceptics and know-it-alls. One in particular remarked that
to erect such an edifice so far west of Bear Creek “would be pure folly.”
Lancey was obviously imbued with a sense of humor because upon hearing that he decided to name his development “Lancey’s Folly” and had the name
inscribed on the building’s capstone. As it turned out, the concern of the sceptics was ill founded because the construction of Lancey’s Folly set off a building boom in the west end of town that resulted in the establishment of today’s
downtown business core. Lancey established a general mercantile business in the “Folly” and ran it successfully for a number of years. The Scarsbrook Grocery Store, another highly successful Petrolia enterprise, was also for many years also
located in this block. In later times, the building housed the Lambton-Kent Creamery on the lower level and the Masonic Temple on the upper floor. The building was razed in the 1960s and is now the site of Crabby Joe’s Restaurant.
Lancey was a great promoter and booster of the town, he had little interest in politics. He did serve one term on council but found his interests were much more imbedded in developing the town’s commercial life and consequently devoted the rest
of his life to that pursuit.
He and Mrs. Lancey had two daughters: Ella (Mrs. William English) of Petrolia and Emma, who married Henry B. Sherman of Chicago. They had one son, Henry, who died in infancy.
In religion H.W. Lancey was an Anglican
and politically didn’t appear to have any particular party affiliation, which was unusual for those times. Henry Warren Lancey died Aug. 15, 1891 and is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery. He was unquestionably one of the great builders of Petrolia’s