If you go downtown, at some point you will probably find yourself on Robinson Avenue. It certainly is one of Oklahoma City’s oldest streets.
A story published in The Oklahoman July 16, 1972, reported, “The morning of April 23, 1889, surveyors set up tripods and squinted through the transits. The links of surveyor chain clanked as Robinson Avenue was surveyed from Reno Road through South Oklahoma toward the North Canadian River. Marching north from Reno at Second Street, the Oklahoma Station surveyors hiked up the old Boomer ‘blue hill’ painted and perfumed by a carpet of wild violets in bloom, and Robinson Avenue stopped at a homesteader’s claim at Seventh Street. ”
“Robinson Avenue began as a dusty or muddy road, depending on the weather, a mile and a quarter long through the townsite of Oklahoma , and South Oklahoma.”
But who was it named for? A Vermonter and a man who never was a resident of Oklahoma or Oklahoma City, Albert Alonzo Robinson. Born in 1844 and raised on the edge of the Wisconsin frontier, he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1869 and began his career as a surveyor’s axeman (the man who cleared the way for the surveyor). By 1886, he was the newly promoted chief engineer for the Santa Fe railroad, and Santa Fe had obtained a federal charter to build the railroad across the Cherokee outlet and Oklahoma lands, working south from Arkansas City to what would become Purcell in the Chickasaw Nation. They started in September 1886, and by February 1887 they were at Deer Creek, OK. Many of the railroad employees were Boomers, those who settled Oklahoma Territory legally. They recognized that the railroad building was a “double blessing,” it provided a good living and kept them near the land they hoped to homestead.
The charter had a deadline of April 20, and it looked like the tracklayers had no chance to meet it.
The government sent a marshal to serve a writ on the railroad, but they didn’t reckon with Mr. Robinson. He sent his chief clerk to take over, and while he laid track and avoided the marshal, Robinson ignored all the messages to cease construction. On April 26, the tired marshal rode in to the railroad camp and told Curtis he was there to serve the writ because the work was not finished.
Curtis said, “The track is all finished, look for yourself.” The marshal agreed.
“That was the last Robinson and the Santa Fe heard of the federal writ. Old Boomers slapped each other on the back about how Robinson had saved the railroad for Oklahoma country.” The famous photograph of the Run of ’89 shows some of the settlers arriving by train on the track that Albert Robinson made sure was laid.
During his 22-year career with Santa Fe, Albert Robinson was responsible for building more than 5,000 miles of track, the bridge over the Royal Gorge and rising to vice president of Santa Fe. When he retired as president of Mexican Central, he returned to Topeka, KS, and died in 1918.
It’s been 120 years since Robinson Avenue was surveyed and named for the Boomers’ friend, Albert Alonzo Robinson, but it is fitting that Oklahoma City’s “main street” is named for the man who made sure the railroad made it to Oklahoma.
Note: Some of Robinson’s biographical information was obtained from Internet biographies.