LANCEY HALL SINCE 1876
By Dave Hext
As published in the Independant
As Henry Warren Lancey climbed through the brush and undergrowth , he ascended the hill which was the western boundary of Petrolia. He could feel
in his legs that he had spent too much time standing behind a hardware counter, his former profession. Henry was contemplating buying the 190 acres of land southwest of Bear Creek, where the Crescent Oil Company stood. As he parted the tree branches
he could see an engine house, steam engine, and a smattering of derricks and small tanks. The land here was flat and dry and like a large table top. Why would people stay down in the flood plain below? His friends teased him, saying he was leaving town by
moving up to the high ground to the west.
Henry had a vision here, as he looked to the east, to see the sun rise, peaking through the dense thicket of trees. He could envision a large park here, just like the ones back home in New England where he was
born. Maybe a large square park surrounded by homes on the perimeter. In the middle, a place for children to play, and families to picnic. Oh how his wife would like it here, away from the stench of the oil. He could build a grand house here, the nicest one
in the park. It would overlook his oil field, and the rest of the village. He could build several large homes here to house his many friends. At least once they saw his vision being built.
In 1871 Henry purchased the Crescent Petroleum Company and in
1876 he built a home at the crest of the road as it wound up the hill from the depths of the oil fields. It wasn’t just a home, but a Victorian Gothic, with a steep pitched roof, and angled windows, and finery that suits a Victorian home. Crescent Park
unfolded just like the Lancey’s had planned. Large wood ,brick and stone homes that would anchor the community for years to come.
The most important date for Lancey would come in 1881, when he built the Lancey Block. It was a very large and permanent
structure, made of brick and stone. Up to this date, most of Petrolia’s stores and buildings had been made of wood. He had been the talk of the town, a silly old fool. He was building this big white elephant of a building during a depression, and in
the West End to boot. The talk was that nobody would go to the west to shop, when Petrolia’s stores were all in the East End. He wasn’t going to let this idle chatter bother him, so with a smirk on his face, he had modeled in the capstone “Lancey’s
Folly”. The “Folly” tag did not stick for long. Before the cement was dry on his new building, the rest of the merchants followed suit. Moving to the “West End” and setting up business seemed like an epidemic. The Town Fathers
assisted by banning wooden structures in the business section. Mr. Lancey carried on a general mercantile business for seven years, before selling to his employees Scarsbrook and Palmer.
The Henry Warren Lancey family will always be remembered.
When you stroll the “Park” June 21 and 22 for Doors Open Lambton County take notice. You will be strolling down Henry Street, Warren Ave, and to the east will be Lancey Street. Please don’t go down there yet because Lancey Hall is to the
west on Ella Street, named after his daughter. If you have time to stroll around the square, note that after Ella comes Emma Street named after another daughter, and then up Emmaline Street , which was Henry’s wife middle name.
On August 15 1891
Henry Warren Lancey passed away due to paralysis brought on by a stoke. The whole downtown business sector shut down in honor of Henry from 1:00 PM til 4:00PM. For the man that built the Folly, he had a funeral procession 80 cars long and a larger number
of pedestrians that mournfully marched to the cemetery.
The Lancey Folly has met to its demise back in the mid 1960’s, but Lancey Hall endures the test of time to be open for viewing, so you can stand in the front yard an envision what Henry did
over a 140 years earlier.