From the unpaved streets of the Land Run to the Interstate highways of today, city drivers are not surprised by the potholes, cracks and rough surfaces they encounter.
A story from The Oklahoman on Nov. 27, 1925, addressed that issue but also gave the history of several street names.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
“Pavements rutted by heavy truck traffic, inclement weather are not endeared to the hearts of Oklahoma Cityans in their infancy of heavy taxes nor when a puncture is picked up. They are the roundelay of abuse from city hall to the city limits — and yet have a heart — they have a heart.
“Take Bath avenue, back of that name is a personality — not a Saturday night ablution. The street was named for V.L. Bath, realty man.”
Bath was one of Oklahoma City’s earliest settlers.
“Dewey avenue has two fathers and is proud of both. One is Admiral Dewey, Spanish-American war hero and the other, Dr. Fred S. Dewey, pioneer physician of the capital city and formerly an army contract surgeon during the 90s. It is the only street in the city that old-timers attribute to different men.”
Dr. Frederick Stanley Dewey was Oklahoma City’s first coroner. His father was Adm. George Dewey’s cousin.
“Peter Billen who platted the Aurora addition was a prominent farmer here, breathed life into the painted curb signs, Billen avenue.”
Billen was born in Prussia in 1845 and grew up in Aurora, Ill. He moved to Oklahoma City in the 1890s and bought a farm on NW 16th.
The addition he platted was named for his boyhood home.
“Ellison avenue looks to Luke Ellison, prominent Mason in Oklahoma City in the early days as a godfather.”
Ellison bought the farm that was to become the Miller Boulevard neighborhood for $200.
“Reno is for Major Reno, an early-day army officer.”
Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was killed while commanding his troops at the Battle of South Mountain during the Civil War.
He lent his name to towns in Nevada and Pennsylvania, a county in Kansas, as well as our own El Reno and Fort Reno.
“The forests live with Ash avenue, Elm street, Cypress and Walnut and the Indian tribes with Pottawatomie, Choctaw or the state’s with Pennsylvania and California while Kate avenue they’ll tell you at the city hall received it’s baptism at the hands of a congenial Irish woman, called Kate, who served home-made doughnuts and coffee to a crew that surveyed the street.”
Basketball season will be upon us in a few months.
The Thunder faithful will gather again on Reno Avenue north of the Chesapeake Arena in anticipation of another great game.
But go a few blocks north to where Broadway and Sheridan form a T intersection anchored by the Cox Convention Center, the Sheraton Century Hotel and the Renaissance Hotel, and imagine, if you will, Broadway extending south and each corner populated with its own diverse group of citizens.
This article from The Oklahoman, May 25, 1919, tells the story of Gospel Corner.
” ‘Gospel Corner,’ famous in the history of Oklahoma City until a decade ago, is being rehabilitated, after being partially suppressed by police edict. During its palmy days, ‘Gospel Corner’ vied with Trafalgar Square in London as a place where the freedom of speech regardless of how seditionary or unorthodox, was permitted. During the summer months it was not uncommon for four religious meetings to be in progress simultaneously — one on each corner, and it was because the intersection of Grand Avenue (now Sheridan Avenue) and Broadway was favored during the cool of the evenings as a place for street sermons that the intersection became known as ‘Gospel Corner.’
“Any man or woman who thought he or she had a message to deliver to the world was welcome to mount a soap box and begin expounding after 6 o’clock p.m. The city was filled with transients at that time, and any speaker was sure to have an audience regardless of the subject or length of the address.
“Religious ideas were not the only ones disseminated at ‘Gospel Corner’ during the heyday of its glory. Soap box orators and curbstone statesmen flourished here in those days, and a citizen with a few minutes to spend could learn how to save the country. The information was free.
“Gospel Corner’s downfall really dates from the time that ‘God,’ ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ (a group of nudists or naturists) undertook one day to put their preaching into practice on West Grand avenue. In broad daylight the three, attired even as Adam might have been, emerged from a doorway near Robinson avenue and began a march east on Grand avenue.”
After being covered up by well-meaning citizens, the trio were taken to jail and then banished from the city. The police pronounced an edict prohibiting gatherings on the corners.
The 1919 article ended by saying:
” ‘Gospel Corner’ is being revived but it is now pitched upon a higher plane. On several evenings last week two organizations were holding forth simultaneously at ‘Gospel Corner’ and the gatherings assumed the proportions of the old time crowds.”
The crowds have moved two blocks south now to Reno, and the shouts are for the home team, but if you’re at Broadway and Sheridan on game night, use your imagination and hear the sounds of those long-ago crowds.
Coltrane Road was named for John J. Coltrane, an ’89er born in North Carolina who owned land in the area near NE 36 and the street with his name.
The road begins at NE 23 Street between Bryant and Sooner Road and runs north, skipping a couple of section lines, nearly to Guthrie.
However, the street wasn’t originally named for the Oklahoma pioneer. It was named State Street.
According to an Oct. 5, 1944, story in The Oklahoman, the name change occurred because of a complication.
It seems there were two State streets in Oklahoma City — the northeast location and one in far northwest Oklahoma City, four blocks east of MacArthur Boulevard.
“It’s the folks along the west-side State Street who are raising the fuss. Their visitors go to the wrong street first, then have a long drive going to the right State Street.
“Besides,” says Mike Donnelly, County Commissioner District 2, site of the “west” State Street, “that other State Street never did rightfully exist. Originally it was named ‘Grant.’”
Mrs. Carl W. Skinner, one of several residents along the street and a niece of John Coltrane, said: “I was born about a mile from here and the street never has been called anything else (State Street) since it was opened several years ago.”
John J. Coltrane “originally owned three quarters of a section in that neighborhood. When the state capital was moved here from Guthrie, Coltrane offered land for the site.”
On July 5, 1911, The Oklahoman listed real estate transactions, and J.J. Coltrane transferred land to the State Capitol Building Co. for the sum of $1. In other early advertisements, Coltrane offered cattle for sale, and in the U.S. Census he is listed as a farmer.
The northwest corner of NE 36 and Coltrane was part of the land offered for the Capitol. The southeast corner was once the summer home of Gov. Robert S. Kerr and later the monks of the Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery of Forest Park. It is now privately owned.
R.L. Peebly (Peebly Road), county commissioner for the district, said he would entertain any suggestions for a new name, and Mrs. Skinner said she “would like for the name ‘Coltrane’ to be considered, honoring her uncle.”
While I found no official announcement, apparently there was no objection, and the east State Street became Coltrane Road.
According to “Bunky,” there were only 23 streets in Oklahoma City on April 23, 1889. “Bunky” was the pen name of journalist Irving Geffs, who wrote this fact in his book, “The First Eight Months of Oklahoma City,” which was published in 1890.
The named streets running north and south were Santa Fe, Broadway, Robinson, Harvey, Hudson and Division, and those running east and west, north of Reno, were Main, Grand and California. South of Reno, the streets were Washington, Noble, Chickasaw, Pottawatomie, Frisco and Choctaw. These would become S 2 through S 7, respectively. North 1 through N 7 made up the rest.
Of these, Grand, now named Sheridan, was first named Clarke after Sidney Clarke, pioneer and civic leader; Washington for President George Washington; Noble for John W. Noble, who was secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior when Oklahoma Territory was opened for settlement; and Frisco for the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad. Indian tribes made up the others.
Many of the later streets named during the early days in Oklahoma City got their names from pioneers associated with the land run, original landowners and developers of housing additions.
On Nov. 21, 1915, The Oklahoman interviewed the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Elmer E. Brown, on his recollections about the names of city streets.
Here are a few names I was able to verify:
Durland Avenue — “In honor of Otto Clay ‘O.C.’ Durland, who in a contest, won a quarter section of land in what is now the Oak Park addition.” When Brown says contest, what he meant was Durland’s land claim was disputed all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Laird Avenue — “For S.E. Laird, prominent early day settler.” He was a landowner, and Laird Avenue is the entry to the Oklahoma History Center.
Everest Avenue — “For J.H. Everest, a lawyer.” A pioneer Oklahoma City attorney, at his death, he had been the last surviving charter member of the First Christian Church.
McKinley Avenue — Named not for the president but for “Miss Margaret McKinley, prominent woman real estate speculator in early days.”
Douglas Avenue — “For McGregor Douglas, prominent businessman, now dead.” At the time of his death in 1908, he was secretary of the Central Title and Investment Co. and the Oklahoma Loan and Building Co. and a member of the Real Estate Exchange.
Brauer Avenue — “For George Brauer, half-brother of Douglas.” This one is wrong. George Brauer is listed as the stepbrother of Anton Classen in Classen’s obituary, and in Brauer’s obituary several surviving Classens were listed as brothers. He was one of the founders and secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma Railway Co., the trolley car business.
Dewey Avenue — Named “in honor of Admiral George Dewey.” Hero of the Battle of Manila in the Spanish-American War in 1898, Dewey was named an admiral in 1903.
I was not able to verify this, but Brown said California Avenue got its name from the number of Californians who settled there after the land run.
I hope this sheds some light on where the names came from for those streets we drive on every day.
Read “The Archivist” online at blog.newsok.com/archivist.
But you’ll look sweet But you’ll look sweet
Upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.
Times change and our modes of transportation change with them.
The tandem bicycle or bicycle built for two was invented in late 19th century England and there is a report in The Oklahoman that possibly three bicycles, and one of those a tandem, participated in the Land Run of 1889.
Here is an article about a theft published November 28, 1938, that brought back memories of an earlier time to the responding police officers.
“Shades of the gay nineties descended upon the police department Sunday afternoon.”
“Got a stolen bicycle at the White House cafe, 1945 Northeast Twenty-third street,” Joe Jerkins, station captain, told (Clyde) Anderson (station officer).
Anderson took off and when he returned it was with “a bicycle built for two–a tandem. And the back seat was almost a large as a rocking chair seat, so the girl friend could ride sideways.”
“Twirling his moustache and yearning for the return of the mustache cup, Jack Barnett, scout car lieutenant, took one look at the machine and remembered how he had clipped a neat corner on one of the things in the dear, dead days. He could go whizzing by the Overholser Opera house on North Robinson avenue, do a fancy left turn, and coast to South Broadway.”
Try that today with downtown’s streets under various stages of repairs and you could probably wind up in a hole or run into a backhoe.
Jack Barnett continued telling about the first car he ever saw was one he ran into on his bicycle. He recalled, “It was a doctor’s car, and when he lifted me into that strange animal I quit hurting right away.”
“Many a boy and man hopped off their tandems to enlist for the Spanish-American war,” Barnett remembered. “And the fellow who had a shiny tandem could really give the girls the eye!”
Back to the crime, it was determined a teen-age boy had left the bicycle behind the cafe and escaped on foot. There was no indication he was ever apprehended, but it sure brought a nostalgic air to the police station back in 1938.
Christmas really is for children.
Christmas always makes me nostalgic and brings back special childhood memories.
One of my favorite Christmas memories is of my parents taking me and my sister downtown to see the Christmas lights and decorations.
Lights on the buildings, swags of decorations strung up across the streets.
Sometimes some of the stores would have mechanical displays and you could stand and watch for free! I know that most of the time I had my mouth open in awe. It was a magical time for a little girl.
This brings me to Christmas present. Having gone downtown to visit a friend recuperating in the hospital, I got turned around.
I had seen the lights hanging from the old Anthony’s building at NW 6 and Broadway, now a bank and office building, and thought they were pretty. Little did I know that when I turned around at Broadway and NW 10 and drove south on Broadway what a wonderful sight it was.
Buildings on both sides of Broadway were covered in lights.
Looking down Broadway brought back those old memories of childhood awe. The lights were magical.
Photographs don’t really do justice to the efforts of the Automobile Alley residents.
If you get a chance this year, drive south on Broadway and enjoy the lights.
If you want more, you can turn east at Reno (you can’t turn west because of construction) and enjoy the Christmas trees and lights of Bricktown. If you’re really brave or adventuresome, drive into downtown. Some streets are closed or rerouted, but many of the buildings and offices have decorated for the holidays, and the trees are wrapped with Christmas lights.