Big City Tales

Home on the Range in Oklahoma | April 20, 2018

Back in the late 1800s, the south-central region of the United States was largely unpopulated, but that would quickly change thanks to the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. This government-sponsored initiative resulted in a mass influx of 50,000 settlers, many anxious to lay claim to coveted plots of land and build a comfortable home on the range in Oklahoma. Some settlers were so intent on grabbing the best homesteads that they snuck into the territory in advance of the official land release date, which resulted in them being called ‘Sooners’, a term that eventually lost its negative connotation and evolved into Oklahoma’s beloved ‘Sooner State’ nickname.

While the majority of Oklahoma’s early settlers farmed the open land, many congregated in newly created towns such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa seeking to cash in on the lucrative livestock trade and eventual discovery of vast oil and gas deposits in these regions.

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Oklahoma City

When the dust from the 1889 land rush had settled, some 10,000 homesteaders had parked their wagons in Oklahoma City and by the turn of the new century the population had doubled. The rapid growth trend continued and the city was soon the center of commerce leading legislators to eventually declare Oklahoma City as the state capital a few years after Oklahoma became part of the United States in 1907.

Thanks to the discovery of oil within the city limits in 1928, Oklahoma City fared better than other municipalities during the Great Depression years and the city became a major production hub. A unique aspect of the city’s new oil business was that one of the fields was located under the State Capitol building so rigs needed to be constructed to extract the oil. To this day, the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex is the only of its kind in the United States with active oil rigs on its grounds, which makes for interesting pictures of them dotting the landscape amidst the white limestone of the Capitol building and Governor’s Mansion. Other points of interest within the complex include State Capitol Park, the Oklahoma History Center, and the Oklahoma Judicial Center.

Another notable city landmark is the Myriad Botanical Gardens that is located downtown and features lush botanics surrounding a sunken lake, as well as interactive displays to educate the public about rain forests and gardening techniques. The main attraction is the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory where palm trees, tropical plants and flowers, waterfalls, and exotic animals convene together in a mammoth living museum. The surrounding grounds contain many sculptures, including a 14-foot tall abstract sculpture called ‘Gateway’ that sits on a raised berm.

For a city that has recently become known as ‘The Big Friendly’ there was unfortunately a period of extreme sadness following a domestic terror attack in 1995. A bomb set-off in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building resulted in 168 deaths, many young children that attended a day care center located in the facility. Notwithstanding the terrible devastation, Oklahomans rallied together and built a beautiful tribute to pay homage to the tragedy. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was constructed on the site of the demolished federal building and honors the victims, survivors, rescuers and others affected by the bombing. The Memorial features 168 empty chairs designed from glass, stone and bronze representing the innocent lives lost; there is also a reflecting pool, twin bronze gates, and a survivors’ wall that is made of granite panels salvaged from the Murrah Building.

Tulsa

Like Oklahoma City, the oil industry is one of the main economic drivers in Tulsa that contributed to its early development. Thanks to oil revenues, the city was awash in cash at the turn of the 20th century that was reflected in the creation of upscale residential neighborhoods and lush arts and cultural centres. For a significant time, the city held the distinction of being the ‘Oil Capital of the World’ until the drastic fall of oil prices in the early 1990s forced the city to diversify in the interest of long-term stability.

One of the early benefactors of the oil boom in Tulsa was businessman Cyrus Avery who was also an advocate of developing a highway system that would run through Tulsa and connect Chicago to Los Angeles. Avery became known as the ‘Father of Route 66’ and his efforts would literally put Tulsa on the map as a popular rest stop along this well-traveled road.

Tulsa is considered to be the arts and culture hub of Oklahoma and it boasts world-class museums, symphony, opera and ballet companies. The Philbrook Museum of Art ranks as one of the Top 50 fine arts museums in the United States and is unique for its combination of offering visitors a look at an historic home, formal gardens, and a private art collection. The Gilcrease Museum contains the world’s most-renowned collection of art and artifacts of the American West; and the Woody Guthrie Center features thousands of the folk artist’s items, including personal effects, sheet music, manuscripts, books, photos, periodicals, etc.

Public art is prevalent throughout the city, especially along the Arkansas River trail system where one new sculpture is installed every year.  The Golden Driller is a famous statue that stands at the entrance into the Tulsa County Fairgrounds as a tribute to the city’s roots in the petroleum industry. The Tower of Reconciliation and Hope Plaza located in John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park tell the story of African-American involvement in building Oklahoma, and memorialize the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

Tulsa is also known for its large number of Art Deco buildings and structures such as the Southwestern Bell Main Dial building, the Mid-Continental Tower, Will Rogers High School, and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church.

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