West Tulsa

West Tulsa was an incorporated town for two years, but soon made an enticing community for Tulsa to annex Sept. 14, 1907.  “West Tulsa, newly incorporated suburb of Tulsa, just across the river, held their first election last Wednesday,” the Tulsa Chief recorded on Oct. 6, 1907.

The first mayor was W.H. Templeton and the aldermen were A.F. Jones, Will Simpson, Elmer Garret, T.A. Mooney and L.H. Feasal. The recorder was F.A. Fuller and marshal was Jack Smith.  When statehood arrived, the town was a two months old.  But from news reports, West Tulsa was having a building boom and Sept. 7, 1909, its independence ended. “The City Commissioners has admitted West Tulsa as a part of the city,” the Tulsa Chief trumpeted. “West Tulsa became a separate municipality two years ago. It is a village of 500 population, with two oil refineries and large railroad yards.”

The boom started before the village incorporated. In October 1906 the Chief reported that Mayor John O. Mitchell was building a combination hotel, store and restaurant in West Tulsa. “West Tulsa is growing very rapidly. Six new houses have been erected in the past month, and two other foundations are being built.

The Uncle Sam Oil Refinery and the brickyards had employees wanting to live in West Tulsa.  “As soon as the car line is built, it will no doubt be extended to West Tulsa and West Tulsa will be a beautiful suburb of the city. It is high enough to have good drainage, and a nice view can be had of the Arkansas River and the famous Tulsa oil wells,” reporters said.

Mitchell was listed as owning West Tulsa and was fixing it up for addition to the city. “Within a short time West Tulsa will be one of the finest residence sections in greater Tulsa.”

The Indian Republican April 12, 1907 proclaimed a lumberyard was coming to West Tulsa. “Scarcely a day passes in the growing little burg that property does not change hands,” and further, getting in on the ground floor would “certainly double their money before the end of the year.”

That same issue covered a setback. Uncle Sam Refinery promoter and secretary, H.H. Tucker Jr. was arrested in Kansas City on a charge of defrauding investors. Headlines said, “Ten thousand is sum defrauded;” “Get Rich Quick” scheme is nipped in the bud; and “Uncle Sam Oil Company Defunct.”

April 9, 1907, Tucker announced he’d have the 100 signatures on his bond in four days. He said he had no fear “in regard to the criminal charges against him. The charges “only disturbed him because they cast a shadow upon the company.”  In June a federal judge, denied Tucker’s petition to postpone the hearing on discharging the Uncle Sam Oil Company receiver. Tucker got 90 days in jail for contempt, for a petition attacking several federal judges. In July, the U.S. president declined to pardon Tucker for his contempt sentence.

The July 6, 1907 issue of the Tulsa Chief reported that a modern park was being laid out in West Tulsa. “It promises to be the real thing this time. The land has been purchased and the street car line is to be extended to the grounds in the near future.” The park was to have a mile-long racetrack, baseball and football fields, a lake for boating and bathing, summer theatre, ice skating, and a convention hall.

In September 1907, Dr. Bland and J. Makin were promoting an electric power production project, which involved cutting an aqueduct or canal through the bend of the Arkansas River, and tapping the energy from water making “a good fall of nine or 10 feet.”  They had Eastern capitalists ready to invest if the project could be undertaken. Then the incorporation took hold.

By January 1908, the Chief reported the Webster Oil Refinery was nearly finished. “To the great surprise of many Tulsans, who strolled over the toll bridge to West Tulsa yesterday, they beheld many changes and improvements on that side. “The first one to catch their eye was that of the plant of the Webster Oil refinery which is the first building on the other side of the bridge,” it read.

In May 1908, Robert Galbreath sent the Tulsa Boosters a telegram saying he had that day bought land on the Frisco railway for the “greatest oil refinery in the world.”  The Chief noted “Galbreath and his associates have amassed a fortune estimated at more than a million dollars each” from the Glenn Pool.  E.A. Porter of Chicago then announced he had bought three acres for a company producing crude oil products such as axle grease and lubricants.

May 26, 1908, disaster struck: flooding sent the Arkansas River to 16 feet deep and still rising. Then it hit 19 feet. Some 100 yards of Frisco track was washed out west of the river, tying up trains in the train yard.  Tent dwellers gathered up their belongings and no traffic was allowed on the wagon bridge during the flood.

June 2 that year, the Chief reported a Frisco fast train derailed just outside of West Tulsa. The engine and three cars left the track, but none were hurt due to the slow speed.

Sept. 22, 1908, the West Tulsa Board of Education awarded a contract to Alanson Snyder for a West Tulsa school with electricity. He bid $22,500. “From all indications, West Tulsa will have a public school building within five months that will be an incentive to men with families to locate and live here and educate their children.”  Among the improvements, the Frisco had a freight house and passenger ticket office in West Tulsa and was expanding the siding in December 1908.

Four days after Christmas, an article said the Uncle Sam Oil Refinery “may be operating soon,” due to negotiations with Pennsylvania oil capitalists.  June 29, 1909 the refinery idle two years was abuzz with 30 men working there to finish it. A horse with rabies bit the West Tulsa School Superintendent S.M. Linscott in May 1909. He went to St. Louis for treatment at the Pasteur Institute.

In September 1909, the West Tulsa Belt Line construction was starting.  That month, 150 were expected to show up for class at West Tulsa schools, a 25 percent increase.  Linscott recovered and was teaching with Miss Middleton and Mrs. Haworth.  Then the community was added to the city of Tulsa.

A Texas Company 35,000 gallon tank exploded about 2:30 p.m. Oct. 25, 1909, breaking windows in West Tulsa and setting off a 24-hour prairie fire. Some thought it was an earthquake. The smoke clouded the skies. Oil company employees and others sped to the scene.

Just before Christmas, the Frisco took out a building permit for a new frame West Tulsa passenger station. The cost was $2,500.  Work began by February on the Texas Company refinery. Thousands of men and hundreds of teams are working on two pipelines to the Texas Gulf Coast and other improvements.

City Assessor J. F. Ayars said West Tulsa would be assessed at about $100,000. It was the first assessment since West Tulsa was annexed. The showing was expected to increase when the “big new refinery and other factories now being contemplated will be included in the list,” the Chief said.  Old-time West Tulsan J.S. Leslie planned to improve some of his lots in that community. He started with a two-story concrete block store.

Fred Lannon, who lived to age 101, recalled Leslie delivering groceries in a horse-drawn spring wagon.  In July 1910, the Uncle Sam Oil Company was building seven service stations in Oklahoma. Anna Hallworth was retained as a teacher in the West Tulsa school and Miss Overton chosen to fill any vacancy.

August 19, 1910, the Chief reported that the Texas Company was nearly complete and would produce everything out of oil –including chewing gum. Grading for the West Tulsa Belt Line was nearly complete that month. The 200-gallon a minute pump for the city well in West Tulsa drained the well too fast. A smaller pump was order by the Water Commissioner Wheatley.

In October 1910, the City of Tulsa sued the St. Louis and St. Francisco and the West Tulsa Belt Line to block construction of the Belt Line past Factory Avenue in West Tulsa.  The city said it hampered the coming and going from the river bridge. The Belt Line connected the Midland Valley Tracks to the Frisco tracks. In April 1911, the West Tulsa Belt Railway accepted a franchise offered the year before.

In November 1910, the Frisco was building a new $50,000 roundhouse in West Tulsa. Some 300 men came to build it and slept in a string of boarding cars on a sidetrack. In March 1911, the company built a large oil tank.  A Sunday-morning fire possibly started by drinking hotel guests destroyed the West Tulsa Hotel and Grocery of Jacob N. Kunkle and the Walker home.

In December, the Tulsa Boiler Manufacturing Company opened in West Tulsa. The Tulsa-Sapulpa Interurban track was being laid in West Tulsa.  In March, 1911, the City Engineer proposed to condemn property in four blocks from Mitchell to Center St. for direct access to the Arkansas River Bridge.

Feb. 4, 1916 the Chief reported that the Uncle Sam Oil Company would fight to keep from being annexed into the City of Tulsa.  When the City Commission declined to leave Uncle Sam out so it could avoid city taxation, company executives decided to try to block the whole parcel.   Their attorneys filed for an injunction in federal court. “The cities cannot be legally governed by a single set of officers, because…a navigable stream separates them,” the plaintiffs alleged.

On Dec. 20, 1913, the Josh Cosden refinery began operation on the west bank of the Arkansas River.  In 1917, the West Tulsa Bank opened and in 1919 the Constantine Refinery caught fire and caused serious damage

In 1921, Rev. Wilkie Clock made a report to the Methodist Conference asking that the conference pay some $8,000 which he felt was due.  The report outlined conditions in West Tulsa, including:

  • Children without clothes for school
  • People sleeping on dirt floors
  • Some 10, 13 or 27 people using the same toliet
  • A man living in a tent
  • A family of six in a house about to fall down
  • Bare-foot families

The report cited 305 which contagious disease such as diptheria, mumps, measles and whooping cough. It said 217 houses were in bad condition.

Feb. 10, 1921, the Mid-Continent Race Track was under construction.  In August 1923, the Arkansas River flooded and most of West Tulsa was under water.   n the 1970’s Urban Renewal wiped out the old housing in West Tulsa. Some former West Tulsa residents still resent being uprooted.

ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM RESOURCES

Before the railroad bridge was built over the Arkansas River in 1883, some people already settled on the lower land on the west bank.  The 1889 survey showed the west side as prairie land in most of what we came to know as West Tulsa.   There were numerous fences around large plots of ground.  Some of the surveyed land (where the railroad yard and West 21st Street Industrial Area)  showed to be plowed ground.   No notes were made on the survey about owners of the land.

The oil strike in Red Fork brought changes to West Tulsa as it did to other nearby areas.  The first change was an increase in population.  Numbers of people coming to the great oil field swelled as news of the strike spread throughout the country.  More important to the West Tulsa people were the creation of the Josh Cosden Refinery in 1913, and the ever-expanding railroad service facility for the Frisco Railroad.  Many West Tulsans worked at the nearby refineries and railroad jobs.

They also sported the Magic City Kennel Club in the early 20’s.  The Kennel Club was home to greyhound racing in the area and became a popular stop for local residents and travelers alike.

Between West Tulsa and Garden City was another attraction for a while.  The Sunset Plunge Amusement Park operated at the junction of the Sapulpa Union Railway and the Sapulpa to Tulsa Highway which became part of the famous Route 66 through America.

 

West Tulsa, 1921, By Rev. Wilkie Clyde Clock

The following report was obtained from Tulsa Police Department historian Ron Trekell in July of 1992.  It appears to be a report from Reverend Wilkie Clyde Clock for the 1921 Methodist Conference, on West Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The original report includes a survey of the living conditions of West Tulsa.

“West Tulsa is located on the West Bank of the Arkansas River, which separates it from Tulsa proper.  It has a population of about three thousand who live in all sorts of homes from modern bungalows to box houses and tents.  The population is a shifting one though there is a tendency to permanent residence in proportion as the people are able to purchase homes.

The principal industries are the refineries which number five, from the Cosden with its employees from fifteen hundred to two thousand strong and producing upward of twenty different products, the Midco, a little to the West, the Pan American a growing concern, The Texas a splendid part of a large concern as is the Pan American, the Constantine, just being rebuilt and the Uncle Sam.  The Frisco also has a considerable force of employees and a Boiler Shop.

The wealth of Tulsa largely depends upon these plants.  The Cosden is producing four times the products it was three years ago.  In this community the Baptists are at work and are doing very credibly.  The Nazarenes also have a small but good work.  For some time the Catholics have had ten lots.  For about six years the Methodists have had a mission here.  It has been blessed of God these years.  The building shown in the cut was erected by Rev. H. B. Brill with his own hands and has served and is still serving as our place of worship.  In it last Sunday there were one hundred and sixty in Sunday School last Sunday.  At the Children’s Church last Sunday afternoon there were sixty-six children being taught by Mrs. S. W. King, the Bible and solid hymns.

Within the past three weeks over eighty have been won for Christ in a “Win My Chum” campaign put on by the Epworth League.  The converts have been largely among the children and young people and have been the result very largely of personal work, neighboring pastors have generously helped in the work.  Tulsa Methodists are at work and each part and people have helped and are helping continuously, and not only these but other Churches and individuals as well.

Miss Pearle McKeeman has been very successful in her work among the young people and children also having classes in sewing, home making cooking etc.  We have almost daily calls to help find employment, homes, medical help, food, legal advice as well as the usual demands upon parsonage, including wife.

We have entered upon a building adequate for needs with a written guarantee that the Board of Home Missions would help us two dollars for one up to the extent on their part of twenty thousand dollars.  We have done our part thus far and the Board is behind on theirs almost eight thousand dollars.

The Board tells us they can not meet this now because the Church at large has failed to meet their obligation.  Will Methodism fail us?  We do not think it will if it has the facts.”

Rev. Wilkie Clyde Clock
Report for the 1921 (Methodist) conference
West Tulsa, Oklahoma

Another very interesting view of West Tulsa is given in an article written by westside author Truman Mikles.  Truman’s article appeared in the Tulsa County News on October 19, 1989.  It is an interview of pioneer family member Merritt Dean.  This story shows a rare glimpse at the kind of people living in West Tulsa.  The story could be repeated thousands of times as each family has its own history.  Current breakdowns in family heritage and unity increase the importance of this type of historical documentation.  The story of the westside through Merritt Dean’s eyes is important to the people on the west bank of the river.  It appears below in its entirety.

“REMEMBERING WHAT HAPPENED ON THE WEST BANK OF THE RIVER”

One hears about building a community, a city.  But Merritt Dean has actual experience because he has seen the west Tulsa area grow.  The family home first was at 17th and Nogales and later at 25th and Jackson.   These are some of Dean’s memories.  “My father, DeLancey Deville Dean, (and mother, Olive Folsom) moved to Tulsa from Mountain Grove, Mo. Because his brother-in-law, Morris Pyle needed some dependable ‘back up’ in his real estate, construction and contracting business.

Uncle Morris was married to dad’s sister, Dora, and besides the collateral of her diamond ring, Morris had lots of guts, know-how and faith in himself.  My oldest brother, Ora, went down in 1916 with a wagon, a team of horses, $5 and a collie dog.  The collie caught chickens, rabbits and other animals, which they ate.  But the $5 was gone by the time they reached the Verdigris River, and Ora drove across the railroad bridge because he didn’t have the quarter to pay for the ferry.

Uncle Morris was busy developing the flood plain on the west side of the Arkansas River.  The river comes east from Keystone in an east by north direction but drops almost due south at 11th and Union in Tulsa.  Dad and some of the older members of the family drove down in wagons but I was a baby (and the youngest of nine children) and came by train.  Uncle Morris was building houses all over town.  Ora drove a sand wagon and my brother, Jim, drove a snatch team (horses in harness) that pulled the wagons filled with sand off the riverbank and onto the firm road surface.  I was born in 1917, so I was really small when we came to town.

Uncle Morris planned for the main street in West Tulsa to be Phoenix, so he built brick buildings at 17th and Phoenix.  One was to be a bank and one an apartment house.  But, the politicians across the river wouldn’t accept his decision and put the bridge across a block farther west so the main street was Quanah.

The ferry site was west a block or so of the bridge site and I assume the steel post and the steel ring that was used to guide the ferry over is still there.  It was the last time I looked anyway.

Transportation used to be in jitneys.  The jitney was a long open van with running boards.  If the passenger was a man, sometimes the jitney would only slow up at the stop and not stop.  You would have to run and hop on.

The interurban streetcar from Greenwood to Sapulpa ran down what would have been Rosedale.  The West Tulsa stop was at 17th.

The fire station was built on 17th between Phoenix and Olympia.  The Cameo Movie Theater was next to the streetcar station on 17th.  The Empress Theater was on Quanah a couple of blocks south on the east side of the street.  The first trucks in town were Army surplus with solid rubber tires.

The main and most important people in town were: Pharmacist Doc Reynolds at the Ozark Drugstore who diagnosed your malady and prescribed the appropriate medicine, and took chickens, a hog, or whatever you had to pay for it.  Methodist Preacher Clock of who ran the Goodwill Industries, dispensed charity to poor kids on Christmas and acted as counselor and friend to many people in trouble.

And builder, Walton Clinton, who among his other good works donated the Celia Clinton elementary school (named for his daughter.)  The law for many years was a 300-pound policeman called Dimples.

A traumatic time during the Race Riot in 1921 occurred when there were soldiers at the bridge to check the people going to and from Tulsa on the east side of the river.

Then, in about 1923 or 1924, there was the flood when everything in West Tulsa was under water.  And there was the time lightning struck theConstantine tank farm which ran east and then south from the river bridge.  A cannon was used to open up the tanks that were on fire, so the oil would spill in the diked circle around the tanks, and burn more rapidly.  For many years after the fire, the melted steel from the tanks lay along side the river.  My brother, Ora, leased the land and rented pasture to residents who owned milk cows.

Mrs. Sanders, who lived in the Constantine office building, had guineas that ran wild and nested in the protection of the old steel plates that once were tanks.  In the fall, we hunted them and the quail that became numerous there.

To the west of West Tulsa lies an oil refinery which began as the Cosden refinery and was known as the Mid-Continent, DX, Sun Ray DX, and now the Sun Oil Co.  At the gate was Paul Barr’s restaurant that fed hundreds of shift workers.

Real estate manipulators and owners of the west side built dozens of shotgun houses. [1]  The Deans built quite a few of the brick buildings along Quanah.  I remember that Dad and I built the bank vault at 18th and Quanah. (Original West Tulsa Bank.)

A strange and unique woman, Martha Elliott, and her husband, Watt, lived in some shacks at 17th and Maybelle.  She kept goats.  Every day she pushed a cart into Tulsa and salvaged food from the restaurant garbage cans, and boxes and throwaway goods from the stores.  She dressed in cast-off men’s clothing and shoes.  She was a well-known landmark.

Before Howard Park was named, there was a burlap track where greyhound races were held.  Later, when the park was developed and there was a baseball field, with lights, the mosquitoes from the sloughs along the railroad tracks were so bad that sometimes the game would be called lest the spectators as well as the players be caused great blood loss from the insects.   Later they used kerosene torches and repellents to hold the mosquitoes at bay; but besides smelling bad, I think it was an exercise in disappointment.

To build the Texaco refinery and tank farm, they cut down a wonderful grove of ancient cottonwood trees and other kinds, and routed the wild bees that had put thousands of pounds of honey in every possible hollow tree.  This grove was about 300 yards wide and a mile long. In the early days, the mecca for young and old alike was Sunset Plunge which was on the main road south towards Sapulpa about 32nd Street.  There were two big swimming pools, a roller coaster (called the Jack Rabbit), and carnival booths.

Ora kept working horses; for many years he was engaged for road building, leveling, earth moving and hauling.  He also raised game roosters and followed the cockfights.

After activities tailed off at Sunset Plunge, some promoters built Crystal City at 43rd Street in Red Fork.  The Sunset Plunge property was bought by Guy Hall Sr. who was an early telephone exchange installer.  He later was involved in the Spavinaw water system installation and kept exact records of where all the pipes are buried and worked until his death for the water system.

The YMCA boxing coach was Guy Fox whose father made cement blocks at 18th and Nogales.  His blocks were foundations for a lot of houses built in that area.

The Eugene Field junior high school was the final place of education for a lot of the westside boys who went to work as soon as they could for the refineries.

The best swimming hole was pretty close to the Public Service Company.  If there were more West Tulsa boys than Garden City boys present, we swam first.  I don’t remember any fights about who swam first, but there was no easy tolerance.

Most sand was hauled in wagons with the bed made of 2×4’s.  In order to dump the sand, the bed was twisted, a 2×4 at a time, to let the sand fall through.  Wagons had tailgates and a chain boomer.

The Dean boys must have worked together a total of 200 years for the Texaco Refinery.  I retired in 1979 with 34 years of service, despite the fact that when I was 28, I fell from a tower at the Texas Co., 40 feet, onto my head.  I broke both arms, ruptured my spleen and kidneys, suffered a severe brain concussion.  I had to have bone transplanted from my leg to one of my arms.  The arm still looks funny and maybe I can’t tell whether I’m throwing or kicking, but still I can hold a golf club firmly and set a good drive.  And if anyone asks my why I sound funny, I’ve always got the excuse that I fell on my head.  It took me over three years to recover from that accident.

I married Aleene Wheeling who was from Quapaw, but she graduated from Central High School.  We have a son, Michael and a daughter, Patricia, and two grandsons, two granddaughters, two great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter. I graduated from Clinton High School in Red Fork in 1935.

I recall some of the problems that were in West Tulsa.  The hoods used to waylay anyone who had money left over after the movie and walked through the park by mistake.

I remember some of the businesses there.  Joe Denton’s hardware, Sherrill’s Feed Store, Shepard’s Dry Goods, Julius Jacobson’s Store, Bunch’s Grocery, Boyd’s Blacksmith Shop, Cox Clothes, Compton’s Ice Co., Quisenberry’s Ice Delivery, bottle water delivery, McMichael’s Sand Company, Ivey’s Trash hauling.

Also, just across the river north, was the Tulsa Incinerator, and the Tulsa Cold Storage Co.  And there used to be a trash dump just south of West Tulsaalong the river.

I was surprised when I was chosen by Claire Nowatzki, the Clinton High School art teacher to be a pallbearer at her funeral.  I was chosen to be executor of my aunt Dora Pyle’s estate and surprised to be asked by Uncle Morris’ daughter for permission to be buried in the family plot.

I’ve heard that mothers across the river warned their girls to not have anything to do with that rough bunch across the river in West Tulsa.  I doubt that anyone who lived in West Tulsa ever thought much about the so-called-disadvantages of living next to the refineries and where the river flooded.  We took it in stride without any thought about it one way or another.

And, without much encouragement from anyone, most kids who grew up on the west side managed to live a full life.  I’ve not run across anyone who is ashamed of who he is or what he is.  Most of the people I knew gave life their best shot.”

Truman Mikles’ article appeared in the Tulsa County News on October 19, 1989.

[1] Shotgun houses were constructed on 25 foot lots with one room behind the next.  One could stand at the front door and shoot out the back door.