I came across a story that referred to Benoni Harrington as the “father of Capitol Hill.” I was curious because I had never heard of him. So I began looking for any information I could find, and I was able to learn about another of Oklahoma City’s colorful pioneers.
Benoni (Ben) R. Harrington arrived in Oklahoma City on April 22, 1889, by train. He was, however, not new to Oklahoma Territory.
Relocating in Wichita, Kan., from California, he would take the train several times a month to the “wild country.” He was a correspondent for the Wichita Beacon and would write about the Unassigned Lands. An interview with Ben Harrington from The Oklahoman, Feb 6, 1949, stated, “Harrington’s stories did a lot toward starting the Sooner movement. People who read them, came on the Santa Fe to look and some tried to stay.”
When Hamlin Sawyer, a Kansas editor, wanted to start a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, Sawyer asked Harrington what he should name the newspaper, and Harrington told him to name it the Oklahoma City Times. The Times was first printed in Kansas and sent down by train.
Quoting from “The First Eight Months in Oklahoma City” by Bunky (Irving Geffs) serialized in the Oklahoma City Times in 1933: “The initial number of the Oklahoma City Times was published to the world Dec. 29, 1888 by Hamlin Whitmore Sawyer, the present editor and publisher. Mr. B. R. Harrington, who was perfectly familiar with this country, was the local editor. The mechanical work on the first issue was executed at Wichita, Kan. but the copy was furnished by Mr. Harrington from this place. Type and material was at once furnished to Mr. Harrington at this place and the Oklahoma City Times as a weekly paper appeared regularly and was circulated to the world through the postoffice at this city. The novelty of a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, from the city that bears its name, was a drawing card and everybody wanted to see the new paper. Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and many metropolitan papers quoted the Oklahoma City Times. The result was a marvelous increase in circulation. In 30 days from the first issue the circulation was extended to every state and territory in the union besides quite a list in Canada and Great Britain. It afforded the publisher a handsome income until Feb. 10, 1889, when Lieutenant Malcomb, commanding a company of U.S. troops raided this section of Oklahoma and put the Times to flight.”
Eventually, the newspaper was purchased by The Oklahoma Publishing Company and was Oklahoma City’s afternoon paper until ceasing publication in 1983.
Because of Ben Harrington’s input in the naming of the newspaper, he was credited with the naming of Oklahoma City. Two stories I found in The Oklahoman and his obituary published April 30, 1959, confirm this.
In 1900, Harrington bought 160 acres south of the North Canadian River, and in 1901 he platted the first addition that was named Capitol Hill.
During his 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Near as I can remember, I answered right off Capitol Hill. They said no, call it Harrington addition. But I said call it Capitol Hill and put it on the map.”
The newspaper article reported: “His idea was to locate the capitol there. There was no state then and Guthrie was the territorial capital.”
In 1904, Capitol Hill was incorporated as a town, and in 1910, it was annexed by Oklahoma City with a population of 2,500. In 1949, it was estimated the population of Capitol Hill was 85,000.
Ben Harrington had a mercantile and contracting business in Oklahoma City on a lot he paid $100 for at 225 w California, but he also dabbled in land developing, natural gas drilling and he was one of the businessmen who encouraged the packing plants to locate in Oklahoma City.
Before his death on April 29, 1959, at 96 years old, Ben Harrington had lived long enough to see Capitol Hill grow from “the one store on the river and open country it was when Harrington planned it,” according to the 1949 story. In 1959 Capitol Hill had ”a semi-weekly newspaper, a daytime radio station, 75 churches, 18 schools, seven parks and business and industry of untold financial value. A major part of Oklahoma City industry is located in the Capitol Hill district.
“The district’s real growth dates from the discovery of oil, the final realization of Harrington’s dream on Dec. 4, 1928.”
The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil and Foster petroleum companies’ well came gushing in 6 and 1/2 miles south of the city and was the discovery well for the Oklahoma City field. On Wednesday, Dec 5, 1928, the citizens of Capitol Hill held a celebration including fireworks and a street dance for the oil discovery.
During the 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Instead of capping it and keeping it quiet, they did like I asked and let her gush.”
The article continued: He figures the gusher attracted attention and started a black gold rush which boomed Capitol Hill and Oklahoma City out of slow growing pains.