Way We Were: The Neils of Norfolk Avenue
June 13, 2017
The house at 920 Norfolk Ave. is an example of the T/L-cottage style of architecture. The style was popular in the 1890s as Park City found its feet as a mountain mining town.
The name comes from the cross wing built perpendicular to the front-facing main section of the house.
Because cross-wings were relatively easy to add on to smaller, hall-parlor homes, this form of architecture also represented one of the most common ways of expanding existing miners’ houses all over town.
Originally built in 1892, 920 Norfolk was bought by William J. Neil and his mother, Ellen Neil, in 1927. Until then, the Neil family had been living just across the street at 915 Norfolk.
Life had been busy for the family after their move to Park City in 1910. Patriarch James Neil was a miner and prospector, often traveling across Utah in search of new strikes. His wife, Ellen, was proprietor of the St. Louis Bakery on Main Street. The couple had 10 children.
In 1917, the United States entered World War I and Summit County saw hundreds of its young men called up for military service. Three of the older Neil sons helped their mother at the bakery but "all three of them were caught in the draft," The Park Record reported. Norman, Victor and William served overseas in France.
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James died in July 1924. Oscar, another son, had died just months earlier. At 25, Oscar and his young family had moved to Castle Gate for what was meant to be a short stint in the coal mines. On the morning of March 8, three separate explosions killed all 171 miners at work. The disaster remains the second worst in Utah and 10th worst in the U.S. Two years later in 1926, the family lost another member, Claude, who died of pneumonia at age 29.
By 1927, all of the surviving children save William were married and living with their own families. Ellen and William purchased the house at 920 Norfolk and moved in. Ellen, retired from the bakery business, was active in the LDS Church, the local Women of Woodcraft lodge and "honorary grandmother" to the Park City Boy Scouts.
Both mother and son were instrumental in establishing the local American Legion. William was charter member of the Legion. Ellen helped found the Women's Auxiliary to the Legion.
When she died at the age of 80, Ellen left behind a 35-year legacy in Park City, 44 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren. William continued to own the home until shortly before his death, also at age 80, in 1969.
Come see both 915 and 920 Norfolk Ave. on our annual Historic Home Tour. Join the museum on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to hear more about the architecture and history of the homes on lower Norfolk and Woodside avenues. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. For information, call the Park City Museum at 435-649-7457 or visit its website at parkcityhistory.org.