A short trip downtown on a hot Sunday afternoon confirmed that the preservation of the memory of a bit of Oklahoma City history was still in place.
A story from The Oklahoman on Feb. 9, 1938, tells the story about Oklahoma City’s first canal. It tells of a grand idea and a grand failure.
The story was being retold, because a historical marker, a small bronze tablet, was being placed to mark the location of the old canal by the ’89er organization. The canal itself was well on its way to disappearing altogether.
The tablet read: “This tablet marks the location of the canal built in 1889 by the Oklahoma Ditch and Power Co. Charles Price, Pres. and C.P. Walker, Secy. The canal head was four miles west. The power plant was located at Broadway and Canal streets. It furnished power to operate an electric light plant for a brief period.”
I doubted, given the address, that 72 years later it would still be there. Oklahoma City, south of the present Crosstown Expressway, is changing due to the rerouting of Interstate 35.
The address was 819 SW 3 St., formerly known as Noble Street. It was here the Oklahoma Operating Company in 1930 built their new office/plant building. The company was the owner of several laundries in town. The story said that the tablet was located on the wall to the right of the door to the office.
The building is now deserted and for sale, but the tablet was right where the story said it would be.
As I stood and looked around, I doubted that those stalwart pioneers would recognize the area. Buildings have been built, and the North Canadian River itself is nowhere to be seen as it was moved south, straightened for flood control and now renamed The Oklahoma River. But because of those ’89ers, a small group of Land Run participants, who wanted those who followed to remember the past, a memorial exists today for those who will seek it out.
Stories abound in The Oklahoman about how the investors were so sure the canal would work that one of them, Charles “Gristmill” Jones built a gristmill to ground flour, and other investors built a power plant to produce electricity.
On Christmas Eve 1890, when water was sent down the canal and it worked for a short time, Oklahoma Citians were so excited. But blame for the failure that followed was put on gophers that damaged the banks and quicksand that clogged the turbines. In less than two years, the canal was abandoned and began its disappearing act.
So, if you are ever downtown visiting Oklahoma City’s successful canal, give a thought to the one that didn’t work.
– Mary Phillips