MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 21, 2013

First paved street privately funded

By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History

— Then described as “an Indian cattle town,” early Muskogee was a roughly constructed town in a lovely, unspoiled prairie setting. As a western frontier community, like many others in Indian Territory, Muskogee sprang up overnight along the railroad and took several years to get past its thrown-together beginning.

For more than 30 years of the town’s existence, residents had one consistent complaint about their town — the streets — or more particularly, the lack of streets. With no city government, there was no authority, and no work force, to lay out streets or maintain them. People built a home or business wherever they pleased with no regard for a “townsite plan.” Consequently, what streets existed tended to meander around the village with no clear direction.

The Indian Journal newspaper in June 1883 ran a picture of Main Street and called it a “hogwallow.” Unpaved and poorly maintained, the street was full of potholes that filled with mud in wet weather. Wagons could easily get stuck in the mire of a wet street, and everything was sure to be splattered with mud by passing horses. The wild hogs that roamed the town, literally used the streets as wallows.

In dry weather, arriving cattle herds would raise a cloud of dust as they lumbered down Main Street to the stockyards. It was so bad that residents knew when a herd was advancing on the city just by the swirl of dust that could be seen from some distance away. Folks knew to shut the windows when the cattle were heading into town or dust would cover everything.

Individual business owners along Main Street tried to improve the conditions by building board sidewalks in front of their shops. This helped in keeping some of the mud or dust out of their place of business, but it really didn’t solve the problem.

Walking about town was a daunting task for folks hoping to arrive at their destination with clean clothes. Businessmen who could afford it would drive a buggy from their home to their place of business even if it was only a few blocks away, just to avoid the mud or dust. Tookah Turner recalled that her mother each day would drive her father, Clarence Turner, down to his hardware store on Main Street from their home at Fourth and Broadway.

Paving the first street in Muskogee was a private effort. A group of business owners led by Mrs. Frank Swift raised the funds to pave a section of Wall Street between Second and Third streets in 1905. The paving material was brick, and each business along this stretch of roadway contributed to covering the expense. This was just one example of the can-do spirit of the frontier when folks worked together for the common good and didn’t wait for “someone else” to do it. If you were to look beneath the asphalt on this street today, you would most likely find those bricks there.

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