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
I came across a story that referred to Benoni Harrington as the “father of Capitol Hill.” I was curious because I had never heard of him. So I began looking for any information I could find, and I was able to learn about another of Oklahoma City’s colorful pioneers.
Benoni (Ben) R. Harrington arrived in Oklahoma City on April 22, 1889, by train. He was, however, not new to Oklahoma Territory.
Relocating in Wichita, Kan., from California, he would take the train several times a month to the “wild country.” He was a correspondent for the Wichita Beacon and would write about the Unassigned Lands. An interview with Ben Harrington from The Oklahoman, Feb 6, 1949, stated, “Harrington’s stories did a lot toward starting the Sooner movement. People who read them, came on the Santa Fe to look and some tried to stay.”
When Hamlin Sawyer, a Kansas editor, wanted to start a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, Sawyer asked Harrington what he should name the newspaper, and Harrington told him to name it the Oklahoma City Times. The Times was first printed in Kansas and sent down by train.
Quoting from “The First Eight Months in Oklahoma City” by Bunky (Irving Geffs) serialized in the Oklahoma City Times in 1933: “The initial number of the Oklahoma City Times was published to the world Dec. 29, 1888 by Hamlin Whitmore Sawyer, the present editor and publisher. Mr. B. R. Harrington, who was perfectly familiar with this country, was the local editor. The mechanical work on the first issue was executed at Wichita, Kan. but the copy was furnished by Mr. Harrington from this place. Type and material was at once furnished to Mr. Harrington at this place and the Oklahoma City Times as a weekly paper appeared regularly and was circulated to the world through the postoffice at this city. The novelty of a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, from the city that bears its name, was a drawing card and everybody wanted to see the new paper. Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and many metropolitan papers quoted the Oklahoma City Times. The result was a marvelous increase in circulation. In 30 days from the first issue the circulation was extended to every state and territory in the union besides quite a list in Canada and Great Britain. It afforded the publisher a handsome income until Feb. 10, 1889, when Lieutenant Malcomb, commanding a company of U.S. troops raided this section of Oklahoma and put the Times to flight.”
Eventually, the newspaper was purchased by The Oklahoma Publishing Company and was Oklahoma City’s afternoon paper until ceasing publication in 1983.
Because of Ben Harrington’s input in the naming of the newspaper, he was credited with the naming of Oklahoma City. Two stories I found in The Oklahoman and his obituary published April 30, 1959, confirm this.
In 1900, Harrington bought 160 acres south of the North Canadian River, and in 1901 he platted the first addition that was named Capitol Hill.
During his 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Near as I can remember, I answered right off Capitol Hill. They said no, call it Harrington addition. But I said call it Capitol Hill and put it on the map.”
The newspaper article reported: “His idea was to locate the capitol there. There was no state then and Guthrie was the territorial capital.”
In 1904, Capitol Hill was incorporated as a town, and in 1910, it was annexed by Oklahoma City with a population of 2,500. In 1949, it was estimated the population of Capitol Hill was 85,000.
Ben Harrington had a mercantile and contracting business in Oklahoma City on a lot he paid $100 for at 225 w California, but he also dabbled in land developing, natural gas drilling and he was one of the businessmen who encouraged the packing plants to locate in Oklahoma City.
Before his death on April 29, 1959, at 96 years old, Ben Harrington had lived long enough to see Capitol Hill grow from “the one store on the river and open country it was when Harrington planned it,” according to the 1949 story. In 1959 Capitol Hill had ”a semi-weekly newspaper, a daytime radio station, 75 churches, 18 schools, seven parks and business and industry of untold financial value. A major part of Oklahoma City industry is located in the Capitol Hill district.
“The district’s real growth dates from the discovery of oil, the final realization of Harrington’s dream on Dec. 4, 1928.”
The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil and Foster petroleum companies’ well came gushing in 6 and 1/2 miles south of the city and was the discovery well for the Oklahoma City field. On Wednesday, Dec 5, 1928, the citizens of Capitol Hill held a celebration including fireworks and a street dance for the oil discovery.
During the 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Instead of capping it and keeping it quiet, they did like I asked and let her gush.”
The article continued: He figures the gusher attracted attention and started a black gold rush which boomed Capitol Hill and Oklahoma City out of slow growing pains.
The winged lions that were originally destined for the state Capitol have been sitting right up the street from The Oklahomanbuilding all these years. Their location is in front of Cunningham Interiors at 2701 W Britton Road.
I want to thank the readers who called and e-mailed to let me know where the lions were and to tell me their memories of the lions. I especially want to thank Sheldon Tarver and Lyle Cunningham of Cunningham Interiors for their calls. They both gave me additional information that led to me finding the following:
A story from The Oklahoman, Sept 24, 1968, that did not come up in my original search, answers the question of when the lions were moved and tells of the fuss that followed.
“After sitting docilely on the corner of NW14 and Classen Dr. for over 50 years, two lions decided Monday it was high time to kick up their heels and cause a little confusion.
The seven foot, 2,500 pound marble mammoths, which had twice been promised to the Oklahoma City Zoo, were recently sold to Cunningham Interiors, 2640 NW Britton Rd. by M. S. Kaufman, of 823 NW 47, who owns the property on which the lions stood.
The hassle began when movers hired by the company carted the statues off Monday morning only minutes before the zoo movers arrived on the scene.
“The statues belong to the zoo,” Mrs. Martha J. Sturm, zoo official, said. “We’ve been delayed in picking them up, but we definitely want them to place at the zoo’s entrance.”
“I offered the lions to the zoo about 10 years ago,” Kaufman said. “They never came and picked them up. I got an opportunity to sell them, so I did.”
Meanwhile, about five years ago, zoo officials were again offered the lions by another man, L. A. Wilcox, 1848 Dorchester Dr., who said he was their rightful owner.
Mrs. Sturm said zoo officials had accepted Wilcox’s offer and had planned since that time to have them removed to the zoo as soon as they could decide on an appropriate spot for them.
“The drawings were submitted and plans drawn up the first of the year,” Mrs. Sturm said. “Mr. Wilcox has worked with us and was eager for the zoo to have them.”
“We contacted the moving people and they were to pick the statues up Monday morning,” she said. “When we arrived the lions were gone.”
Wilcox said that about 5 years ago, his son, Burr Wilcox, who owned a wrecking company, was contracted by Kaufman to demolish the buildings that occupied the property.
“When a man accepts such a job,” Wilcox explained, “the buildings he tears down automatically belong to him.”
He said his son asked Kaufman if he might salvage the two statues and donate them to a worthy cause, and Kaufman agreed.
However, shortly before the job was finished, Burr Wilcox died. His father then decided that the lions should be donated to the zoo as a memorial to his son.”
With two estates involved and the zoo claiming ownership, the last story I was able to find was from the next day and said, “attorneys for three individuals and the zoo met but were unable to work out an agreement.”
Since Cunningham Interiors had purchased, paid for and moved the lions, the assumption is that legally they were his, and so they have been for the last 42 years.
I drove past last week, and the lions looked well cared for and quite content.
Visit my blog at http://blog.newsok.com/archivist/ and view more photographs of the lions.
(Photographs taken by Steve Maupin of The Oklahoman)