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
As discussion continues about Sandridge Energy’s decision to demolish six buildings downtown, including Oklahoma City’s oldest structure, the India Temple building built in 1902, I came across this story from 100 years ago published in The Oklahoman, May 1, 1910.
It is timely or timeless, for it shows the change, destruction and construction of buildings, that continue to keep Oklahoma City a vital and modern city. Also, it tells us that our pioneers recognized the importance old buildings had to their history and their attempts to preserve them and reuse them when possible.
The early day preservationists recognized, in this case, that most of the buildings had changed beyond remembrance, but they made the attempt to save the one that remained. Without such forethought, the Skirvin Hotel, now one of Oklahoma City’s beloved landmarks, might not have been located where it is and might not look like it does today.
“LANDMARK DEMOLISHED MAKING ROOM FOR THE NEW SKIRVIN HOUSE”
“On the land where, but a few years ago, men vied for public favor in distributing groceries; the thirsty footsore traveler quenched his burning throat, and where a railroad then a struggling corporation, fought with the strength of a bull for a site to build a station, there will be erected within a year a magnificient modern ten-story hotel.
The work of excavating on the new Skirvin House, First street and Broadway, preceded by the removal of the old buildings, one of them a landmark, brings to the old-timers visions of the days gone by. Last week while attempting to remove, without demolishing one of the old structures, it fell apart. As old age overtakes man, so time did its work and the old Richardson real estate office is no more.
The history of the land at First and Broadway is closely allied with the settlement of the city, for there the first business section was started. The land where the Rock Island depot stands was owned by I.C. Cuppy, who staked out two lots. Soon after the opening (the Land Run opening) the Choctaw Railroad, now the Rock Island, bought two of Mr. Cuppy’s lots and one of his buildings, a two-story frame house.
For many months this was the only station house, as they were then called. Adjoining it was the old Richardson house, used and operated by real estate men and familiarly known as the “office.” The frame house, one of the first to be built in Oklahoma City, was the work of W.S. Richardson and a cousin. It was completed some time in 1889 and after serving faithfully for twenty-one years it went to pieces on April 25, 1910.
G.W. Turley staked the first lot on the well known corner and for many years lived there. To the north adjoining him was Kelley Shelton with his “Liquor Emporium,” and many a night the still air resounded with the laughter of the pioneers of Oklahoma.
Only a few years after the opening, the Choctaw railroad tore down the house originally owned by Cuppy and erected a station of its own, which is still standing. Thus one of the original group was lost. Turley’s residence was never wholly demolished, but so many and so frequent were the additions that it could not be called the orginal.
The place occupied by Shelton was partly torn down and remodeled until it bore no resemblance to the original, but the “Office” built by Richardson and his cousin was one of group that retained recognition. Before its removal last week, a number of people looked at the simple frame and many who saw it crumble to pieces, coupled the incident with memories of the past.
Within a few years nearly all of the old land marks will be gone and the early days will be remembered only by tale of mouth and pen. Among a number of the ’89ers there is talk of forming a society to preserve the structures so inseparably connected with the early history of Oklahoma City.”
Our current city planners and developers have to strike a balance between the truly historical and that which has been changed until it bears “no resemblance to the original” and save what they can.
– Mary Phillips
Imagine, if you will, the area where the state Capitol now stands as empty prairie and how bright stars would have been without the lights of the city today. This would have been the scene on a crisp, November night in 1910.
Before the graders could grade and the builders could build, the surveyors had to perform their calculations to determine the exact location in the world of the Capitol building.
Two stories from The Oklahoman, Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 of 1910 described the actions of the surveyors as they engaged in ”Fixing the State Capital Meridian.”
The Saturday, Nov. 12, article is prefaced as though for a play:
Scene: The Capitol site
Time: Friday evening
Props: “Two delicate surveyor’s transit instruments, the best of the kind in the world, flickering lantern, fitful gleams of a gypsy fire, great bags of apples, surveyors stakes in a pile, small flash lights and above all an appetizing aroma of coffee from the bubbling pot on the fire.”
Cast– members of the capitol commission, corps of engineers and at least one newspaper reporter.
“There you are–what was it all about? An important event in the history of Oklahoma City’s acquisition of the state capitol– the establishment of the capitol site by astronomical calculation based on the whirling of Polaris, the north star, on its heavenly orbit.”
“The calculation was made by Mr. D’Yarmett in the presence of the capitol commissioners to provide an absolute basis for the surveyor’s lines on the capitol site. No human agency can rub out this important imaginary line– and should all other plats and maps and records be destroyed the expert engineer with the exact longitude of the capitol site, obtained last night, could reproduce the maps. The observation of Polaris to determine “True North” is handed down to science by the sailors of Phoenicia–in its perfected form it played its part in the building of a great state house by a great state.
“The observation was begun by a corps of engineers at 8:45 o’clock Friday night when the star
peeped from the mists of the northern sky. It was finished in the wee hours of this morning but the sensitive instruments were left on their tripods until early today when the calculation from their reading will be made and announcement given out by the capitol commission. The jarring of street cars or automobiles in carring the instruments to the city might have produced serious error. Hence the all night vigil– the blazing fire for warmth to the watchers and the glowing coals to cook the appetizing midnight meal for the the engineers and commissioners– the first picnic on the capitol site.”
The Oklahoman Sunday, Nov. 13 announced:
“The capitol of the state of Oklahoma will be located on longitude 97 degrees, 25 minutes.
“… the observation was the clulmination, the finishing touch, to the tremendous work of laying out and platting the state capitol site. The establishment of the meridian, or “the azimuth of the base line of the capitol addition,” forever fixes ” a bench mark” from which the entire site could be replatted, should all other records be effaced…”
– Mary Phillips
The new Devon tower will soon be rising over the city skyline, and as the workers excavate for the caissons that will support the building, at least they won’t have to worry about quicksand.
In 1909, a new building was to begin construction on the northwest corner of Robinson and Grand. First, the six houses that had been on that corner since 1889 had to be demolished. Then a quicksand test had to be done.
A small item in the Sept. 30, 1909, Oklahoman reported that the test was considered a success when larger posts than necessary sank only 3/4 of an inch after 5 days.
The demolition and the the quicksand test were done in preparation for the construction of the Colcord building, still standing to the east of where the Devon tower will soon rise. This year, the Colcord building will be 100 years old and was built by Oklahoma City pioneer capitalist, Col. C. F. Colcord, as an office building. It now performs stellar service as a boutique hotel.
The only other construction problem I came across in The Oklahoman was in November 1909 when the south wall of the old post office building across the alley from the excavation site, and not to be confused with the old post office building at 201-215 Dean A. McGee, began sinking and led to the immediate evacuation of the tenants and the attempt to shore up the building.
On Sept. 3, 1909, U.S. Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman visited Oklahoma City, and on his itinerary was a visit to the rooftop garden of the 14-story Colcord building to view the city and its surrounding area. In November, the elevator operators claimed to be taking more visitors to the roof to view the city than actual work-related visitors.
Dec. 1, 1910, the Colcord held its “housewarming reception” and more than 10,000 people attended, a record at the time.
May the longevity of the Colcord building set an example for the the future as Devon Energy builds its new home.