“Nesting in the miniature valley that extends from Twentieth and Twenty-second streets, and along the line of North Broadway, a pretty little plat of ground that has come into the ownership of Oklahoma City …”
“It was on this ground that the ‘eighty-niners’ had their first picnic. In its rough state, with the streets yet projected, the grove (of oak trees) that is about to be transformed into a city park was the scene of an old fashioned picnic. A well of pure water was an attraction that would be even more appreciated in these days, if it had not dried up. That well was dug by the early boomers.”
This description was in The Oklahoman Feb. 19, 1911.
Today that “pretty little plat of ground” is an island of grass, a few trees and a fire station.
Capt. John F. Winans homesteaded, farmed, developed and donated the land for the park that carries his name.
From his obituary published in The Oklahoman Jan. 31, 1935, we get a colorful picture of Winans, who was 93 at the time of his death.
“Death ended a career which, in Oklahoma, began with Winans plowing and harvesting crops from a frontier farm located in what is now an exclusive residential district — Winans addition. The addition extends from Northwest Sixteenth to Twenty-Third street and from Santa Fe to Walker Avenue.
“The neighbors of Capt. John F. Winans, 115 Northwest Seventeenth Street, never got used to seeing the 93-year-old man run around the block every morning. He attributed his long life … to regular exercise. That and two vegetarian meals a day and abstinence from coffee, tea, milk, liquor and tobacco.”
“The lawn he mowed was once part of his farm — a frontier farm that he tilled at the same time George H. Harn was plowing an adjoining one in what is now the Harn tract, on the other side of the Santa Fe tracks.”
Winans’ plan was to plant a fruit farm on his property, but Oklahoma City was growing northward fast, and houses were taking the place of farmland.
He donated the park land in 1911 and was said to enjoy watching the children at play.
Since the 1920s and ’30s, there had been lighted tennis courts, a playground with swings and a wading pool with bathhouse.
There is a sign that proclaims the land as Winans Park to the river of traffic on Broadway flowing mindlessly around it.
The wading pool and the tennis courts have all disappeared and the city rounded the corners, taking some of the land, to make the street a little less treacherous for speeding automobiles.
The first fire station was built in the park in 1951, and in 1993, it was demolished and a new station was built on the same site.
There is nothing in the way of recreation, but if you venture across busy Broadway or speed around it, the little park still remains, a silent tribute to a generous Oklahoma pioneer and the rich history of Oklahoma City.
Pick up a newspaper, check online or listen to the television, and it seems all you hear is about the heat and whether or not Oklahoma City will break the 1936 high temperature record of 113.1 degrees.
This observation appeared 75 years ago Sunday, Aug. 16, 1936, on Page 1 of The Oklahoman. It recaps the week of heat that included the record-setting 113.1 degree high temperature.
Fear is the papa and mama of invention. We have been very scared the last two weeks because the human body is 90 percent water and we have been evaporating at a rapid rate.
Harry Wahlgren, with the two hottest weeks on record, until a few days ago had us believing he was drying us like peaches on a smoke house roof. He had us wondering how long it would be until we dried up completely and blew into Arkansas, just so many irritants to hay fever victims.
It’s got to be admitted that Harry’s first few blows brought out our creative impulses. The humblest became scientific. We reasoned that if we were drying up at twice our weight a day we would have to drink three times our weight in water to hold our own.
That was elemental, but as soon as we were waterlogged it became clear that other modern means would have to adopted to cut down the evaporation. We quit all work to apply ourselves to this problem.
Primitive souls hauled in tubs of ice and sat opposite electric fans. Stone age men hung wet towels in the windows. Reactionaries tried gin highballs. The best minds among us evaporated a lot of rigging up air coolers. They sought boxes of wet excelsior, ran water through them and fanned the air on their heaving bosoms.
Some made gadgets out of fishing reels, bicycle pumps, flannel underwear and electric fans. Some lay under water sprinklers. Others floundered in tepid swimming pools.
It looked like it would all be in vain. We were losing ground. Wahlgren was pouring it on.
The worse day was the day we broke the record. Panting from inventing we learned that on August 10 we had been hotter than ever an Oklahoma Cityan had been before. That made us kinda proud. It set us out as hardy people.
Sleeping through that night under the cool off a mere 81 degrees that was long in coming we found we could take it for certain.
The next day we weren’t even impressed when Harry raised the ante to 113 degrees. Then when the temperature began to fall a two and three degrees at a clip we gave Wahlgren the horse laugh. We drove out Classen in the heat of the day to mock him.
We even went back to work. We forgot about our gadgets to keep cool. We forgot even to remember we were hot. We have proved that hearty Oklahomans can sweat and live. Not only sweat and live, but sweat and get the job done, sweat and even have fun. We have proved we’re tougher even than rag weeds.
Hang in there! In 1936 the rains and cooler temperatures finally came in September.
Note: Harry Walgren was the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau branch on Classen Boulevard in what are now law offices
The Oklahoman has had many columnists over the years, and they have covered a variety of subjects.
One of the most popular columns, “The Smoking Room,” was written by one of The Oklahoman’s great editors and writers, who was known to most newspaper readers as R.G.M., the initials that accompanied his column.
R.G.M. was Richard “Dick” G. Miller, who came to The Oklahoman in 1920 and retired in 1968. For the 30-plus years lof his column, R.G.M. wrote mostly about the state he loved and its people and places. He was, according to his obituary published Sept. 16, 1970, “the state’s undisputed champion booster and ambassador.”
Here’s an excerpt from a “Smoking Room” column published March 29, 1936, that captured my attention:
“We should like to have the help of Smoking Room readers in naming the Seven Wonders of Oklahoma. Jot down your ideas and send them in. Of course, the whole state is a wonder, having been settled only 47 years ago and ranking among the best of them now. Our oil fields constitute another wonder. It is also a wonder, sometimes, how some men get elected to high office in Oklahoma. But the kind of wonder we are talking about is the kind that was built by nature but cared for and possibly aided by men.
To give you an idea and start you thinking, here is a list of what we call the wonders of Oklahoma, and there are more:
1. The Great Salt Plains in Alfalfa County, near Cherokee and Jet.
2. The artesian sulphur wells at Sulphur.
3. The bat caves at Freedom, near the Woods-Woodward county line.
4. The Glass Mountains in Major County. The queerest hill formations in the state.
5. The basket weavers’ caves in the western part of Cimarron County. Definite proof is visible there of prehistoric man’s existence in this state.
6. Devil’s Den, a few miles north of Tishomingo. Giant piles of solid granite boulders; one wonders how they ever got that way.
7. The mammoth caves and canyons in Blaine County north of Watonga and west of Hitchcock — large earth rooms that are explorable.
8. The sand dunes on the North Canadian River just south of Waynoka; more sand hills are visible from this point than anywhere else in the state.
9. The giant cliff that towers above the Illinois River just across from the village of Cookson in Cherokee county — probably the state’s largest and most scenic cliff.
10. The Kiamichi Mountain scenery, made easily accessible by CCC roads which lead around and to the peaks of the highest mountains.
11. Dripping Springs in southern Delaware County near the Arkansas line. Nature left a queer-shaped but beautiful piece of handiwork here, with sparkling 80-foot falls.
12. The Turner Falls area, in the Arbuckle Mountains between Davis and Ardmore.
13. Robbers Cave near Wilburton; giant rocks, deep hideouts, one of nature’s beauty spots.
Take that list for a starter, make any additions you like, and vote for seven — the seven which you believe to be the Seven Wonders of Oklahoma.”
I haven’t been to all the places on Miller’s list, but I can agree on all of those above that I have seen.
My list would include (1) Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur with its natural springs and range of nature; (2) Devil’s Den, with its rock formations and Pennington Creek, a natural water slide, before it became privately owned; (3) the sand dunes at Little Sahara State Park; (4) Beaver’s Bend and the Mountain Fork River; (5) Turner Falls and (6) Black Mesa, the highest spot in Oklahoma, complete with dinosaur tracks.
I have been to the salt plains, the canyons at Roman Nose State Park near Watonga, the Glass or Gloss Mountains and once spent an entire day driving on some of those CCC roads in the Kiamichi Mountains.
But for me, my seventh wonder would have to be any Oklahoma sunset that lights up the sky in colors no artist or photographer can truly do justice.
Mary Phillips writes “The Archivist,” which appears regularly on Tuesdays in The Oklahoman. If you have any Oklahoma natural wonders that you might like to share, e-mail Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.