History often shows up where we least expect it.
My sister, Martha Vickery, and I occasionally go to estate sales, searching for bargains and odd, interesting items
At a recent sale, I saw a plaque on the wall, looked at it, thought the $12 price was too high and went on looking through the house.
Before I paid for the things I had found, I looked at the plaque again and decided to buy it.
It is a simple board plaque with a half-inch thick slice of iron rail attached and a piece of paper pasted to the bottom with this simple explanation:
TOWARD A FINER OKLAHOMA CITY
This section of streetcar track was removed in 1976 from its original location at Main and Robinson during the renewal of the Central Business District. As part of the downtown city loop of the street rail system, this track served all the north and east areas of Oklahoma City, including such routes as the Fairgrounds, East Fourth, Capitol Culbertson, Lincoln Park and North Robinson. Over this rail passed thousands of merrymakers destined for the Fairgrounds as well as those with civic pride eager to see the new State Capitol dedicated July 4, 1917. During 1920, the system’s best year, 25.5 million passengers used the lines of the streetcar system.
— George H. Shirk, Christmas 1976
My guess is George Shirk, former mayor of Oklahoma City and a lifelong preservationist of Oklahoma history, might have given these as Christmas gifts the year before his death in 1977.
Why is the plaque important to me?
That piece of streetcar rail represents a part of my family’s history. My Oklahoma pioneer grandmother, Stella Young, rode the streetcar to Guthrie for the 89er parades. My aunt, Grace Helms, tells how when she rode the cars as a child, the wicker seats were so slick, and the streetcar’s swaying motion made her afraid she might slide right off.
Many family memories centered on the fairgrounds, then at NW 10 and Martin Luther King Avenue, where Douglass High School now stands, Northeast Lake near the zoo, then a popular swimming area, and trips downtown to window shop, all destinations on the streetcar lines.
The only street cars I’ve ridden were those in San Francisco.
The closest I had come to the rails were those still in the street under the overpass at NW 4 and Broadway.
Now, I have a piece of Oklahoma City history.