MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 28, 2013

Business magnate left his name on two towns

By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History

— Frederick Ballard Severs was an Indian Territory pioneer who made such a difference in his community that his name lives on well after his death.  

To say that he was important to Muskogee’s development is an understatement. He had a hand in much of the early commercial and architectural history of Muskogee and also of Okmulgee.

Severs was born in 1835 in Arkansas near the border with the Cherokee Nation. He attended Cane Hill Collegiate Institute in Arkansas and after graduating at age 17, he moved to Indian Territory. An old friend of his father’s gave him a job in a mercantile in Fort Gibson.

At age 20, Severs was asked by the Creek Nation to lead a school at Concharty, near present-day Haskell. Here he met another school teacher, Annie Anderson, who later became his wife. Annie was the daughter of George Anderson, a Creek chief.

Leaving the school in 1860, Severs returned to the mercantile trade, starting a store in Shieldsville, a small community near Okmulgee. Before he could make a success of this business, however, the Civil War broke out, disrupting life in Indian Territory.

Severs joined a Confederate regiment organized by Samuel Checote and received the rank of second lieutenant. He was one of very few soldiers in the regiment who was not Creek. By the end of the war, he held the rank of captain and was referred to as “Captain Severs” for the remainder of his life.

Starting over after the war was difficult for everyone, but Severs returned to his store in Shieldsville and slowly built the business. Eventually he moved it to the Creek capital, Okmulgee, where he also had a cotton gin and sawmill. He built a block of buildings there called the Severs Block. During this time, he received Creek citizenship and became very involved in Creek national politics.

In 1884, Severs moved to the growing community of Muskogee, buying a business at Main Street and Okmulgee Avenue. He quickly became one of the leading businessmen in his new hometown. He built a large home at Fifth Street and Broadway in the center of a four-block area that now includes both the county and federal courthouses.

Severs was a charter founder of the first bank in Indian Territory, and he built a large brick structure to house the bank. Known as the Severs Block today, this commercial section between Broadway and Okmulgee at Main is one of the oldest commercial districts in the region.

Severs’ best known contribution to Muskogee’s skyline is the Severs Hotel, which was completed in 1912. Using oxen teams, Severs moved his home to the Capitol Place area to make room for the hotel.

The 10-story Severs Building — Muskogee’s tallest structure — stands as a testimony of the long shadow of influence from this successful and generous businessman. The Severs Block, Severs Hotel and Severs Home in Muskogee are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.