By Leilani Roberts Ott
Karen Cooper remembers how beautiful Muskogee was when she was a child 60 years ago.
“The first time my family drove through the residential areas, I thought Muskogee was the most elegant, successful place I’d ever seen,” the Tahlequah woman said.
Local historian Jonita Mullins wants people to see and hear the history of some of these homes when she leads the Historic Neighborhood Walking Tour through Founders’ Place and Kendall Place Historic District, starting at 9 a.m. today at Beckman Park, at 16th and Court streets. The cost is $5.
“I love history,” Mullins said. “It will be good to get out of the house and walk. I want to call attention to homes that are in sad shape like Alice Robertson’s at 1109 Elgin.”
She also is sharing the beauty of those homes that have been maintained and those that are surrounded by gardens, such as the home of Anita Whitaker in Founders’ Place. Whitaker is a Master Gardener.
Mullins describes the tour as a “sidewalk inventory.”
“There’s a real need to be a healthier community,” she said.
She believes walking in the neighborhoods is a good way to do that. The tour will start at Beckman Park, then go north to Emporia where she will talk about the history of the Graham-Carroll House and Fite Mansion. The tour will then head south past Beckman Park to Boston Street.
“We will talk about the Griffin-Hays House and some general history of Muskogee and the historic neighborhoods,” she said.
The walkers will go east along Boston from 16th to 14th streets and hear about the history of the Rowsey House at 14th and Boston, the Robb House on Boston, and the Welch, Rector and Patterson homes at 14th Street and Okmulgee Avenue. The walk continues west along Okmulgee Avenue to 15th Street, where participants may enter the Thomas-Foreman Historic Home. The tour will then go north on 15th back to Beckman Park. The tour should last about an hour.
Cooper and her husband, Jim Roaix, own a century-old home in Tahlequah.
“We love to learn about architecture, the people who built the homes, and their stories,” Cooper said. “I was from the small town of Collinsville and my grandparents lived near Checotah. I was aware of Tulsa, but initially, I was much more impressed with Muskogee. It’s sad to see the economic losses that have occurred in Muskogee. Meanwhile, we are hopeful for the continued, managed growth of Tahlequah.”
Mullins has directed a lot of tours, but this will be her first historic tour of homes. She and Doug Walton got the idea after Walton, who is a member of the Food and Fitness Initiative, asked Mullins to lead a group walk on the Centennial Trails.
“I enjoy walking the trails,” Mullins said.
She couldn’t help injecting a few historical facts along the way.
Walton said, “The neighborhood walking tours are a great chance to see and hear about some of Muskogee’s rich history and beautiful old homes, while strolling alongside these streets where people once walked as a matter of daily life.
“Plus, getting out and walking about can be a very liberating experience. It allows you to notice things that you just can’t catch while whizzing by in a car.”
Walton and Mullins are both member of the Action In Muskogee Infrastructure Committee. Mullins believes the tour will be an education even for locals as well as walkers such as Cooper and Roaix. For example, she’ll talk about the Rowsey House, designed in Italian Renaissance style and built by a family that made money in oil, gas and real estate.
The Robb House, 1321 Boston St., was owned by a merchant who had a contract with the railroad, Mullins said.
“Their daughter was the first non-Indian child born in Muskogee,” she said.
The girl was Jesse Robb.
The Welch House nearby is Mullins’ favorite. It is striking, with giant white columns that accent the yellow three-story structure. It had a ballroom on the third floor, she said.
Across the street is the stone home built by A.W. Patterson, a banker who built the first convention center in Muskogee, she said. In Founders’ Place, the now empty Fite Mansion was built by Dr. F.B. Fite to be the governor’s mansion. Mullins will share many more details and stories on the tour.
She said she became passionate about history when she was in fourth grade studying the Pilgrims. When her teacher told the class about Priscilla Mullins, one of the Pilgrims, Mullins felt connected because of her last name.
“That took over for me,” she said.
If you go
WHAT: Historic Neighborhood Walking Tour through Founders’ Place and Kendall Place Historic District in Muskogee.
WHEN: 9 a.m. today.
WHERE: Beckman Park, 16th and Court streets.
COST: $5, cash only.