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
It was a plaintive plea in The Oklahoman on Sept. 2, 1908, that caught my eye:
“Prohibition has not stopped drunkenness up to this date and if we must have drunkenness, let’s try to confine it to the men and let the fishes at least die sober.”
Whit M. Grant, Oklahoma City’s first mayor under the commission form of government, was complaining about illegal, confiscated beer being dumped in the streets and allowed to flow down the sewers and into the river.
“Intoxicated inhabitants of the North Canadian kept citizens of Spencer busy, following the Moss beer spilling according to Mr. Grant, who returned from there yesterday. Rendered helpless by the brew in the river, hundreds of fish were taken without difficulty. One catfish captured weighed 90 pounds, according to Mr. Grant, who says:
“About the middle of last week another prohibition slump was made into the sewers from the Moss brewery; and following it up , on Friday, from about 10 o’clock in the morning until about 2 in the afternoon the river, for at least three miles this side of Spencer and on below as far as heard from, was full of drunken fish, they may have appeared in other places—I have not heard. They would swim around, some on their sides and some with their backs partly out of the water, butting against logs and other obstructions in the river and into the banks, some helpless and heedless of the approach of human beings, while others probably not quite so drunk made some effort to get out of the way when approached. Their behavior was infact not much different from a bunch of drunken men.”
“The people in and about Spencer took advantage of the situation and captured great numbers of fish and after keeping them in fresh water for a time revived them and they got as active as they ever had been, and were eaten. They had no bad flavor or unusual taste–in fact they were good to eat, at all events many ate them and no bad effects have been reported.”
However, the article goes on to report that many fish were found dead along the river and it was attributed to the beer in the water. Mr. Grant went on to say:
“I am positive that there is over a ton of dead fish in the river between this city and Spencer. Such destruction of food fishes is an outrage on the people entitled to them and a disgrace to the parties responsible for it.”
He expressed hope that such a thing would not happen again.
I did not find any more mention of “spilling” beer in Oklahoma City, but in 1909 I came across an article where the confiscated liquor was being sold to Kansas, so the city found a way to profit from the beer.