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Oklahoma History: The Rebirth of Main Street Oklahoma
Since the Oklahoma Main Street Program was founded in 1985, many small communities across Oklahoma have taken a little more extra pride and devotion to their towns. The Main Street Program has helped revitalize these small towns and help them become prosperous as well as founding a sense of pride in their history.
This article takes a moment to emphasize the importance of these main street programs across the United States. Without them, many of our cherished small towns would quietly fade into obscurity. The Oklahoma Main Street Program has been a huge success, and has in fact encouraged other states to adopt their own main street programs.
As you read this, picture, if you will, how much of an impact has with the present. A wise man once said, if you don't know where you came from, you'll never know where you're going.
Main Street Oklahoma: From Obscurity to Fame and Back Again
Across a windswept stretch of earth, several ramshackle buildings stand as silent sentinels to Oklahoma’s faded past. The small town lies nearly forgotten as the surrounding plains creep in to reclaim it. A crumbled brick road leads through the heart of Main Street, now nearly covered with spider webs of grass and almost hidden under the red earth.
The few dilapidated buildings that remain bear testimony to the optimism of a lost age. Since the birth of the state in 1907, Oklahoma had been swept up in a great wave of optimism and pride. Over the next 20 years, Oklahoma would experience tremendous growth as new technology and wealth spread across the state.
Oklahoma was born with the automobile; achieving statehood barely a year before Henry Ford introduced his Model T. In 1905, Glenn Pool oil field is discovered near Tulsa, and by 1907, Oklahoma became the largest oil-producer in the world. Millionaires were made, and by the time the United States entered World War One in 1917, Oklahoma was quickly becoming one of the most important states in the Union. Route 66 was born. Cities sprung up overnight, driving the state forward in a swift march of progress.
That brisk march came to a sudden halt in 1929. The world watched as stocks plummeted and fortunes were lost. Many of the wealthy and powerful in Oklahoma suddenly found themselves homeless and destitute. Over the next several months, a great number of Oklahoma businesses failed, leaving hundreds searching for work where there was none to be had.
While much of the country eventually recovered from the Great Stock Market crash of 1929, the state was quickly dealt another blow that would last for decades. Oklahoma was seized by a great drought that devastated agricultural production. Misuse of the land combined with the drought caused the Dust Bowl, which lasted well into the late 30’s. The people of the plains quickly succumbed to desperation, as they relied on steady crops to sustain their homes and families.
During the 1930’s, Oklahoma experienced a great exodus. People left the state in droves, all looking for brighter days. Those who remained fought to keep the forward momentum going, but it was not enough. The once prosperous towns soon fell into obscurity, lying in the harsh Oklahoma sun like broken derelicts.
The Rebirth of Main Street Oklahoma
For more than eighty years, much of Main Street Oklahoma has been forgotten. Time has ravaged these once splendid buildings until they have become mere fragments of what they once were. There is a peculiar kind of sadness when one of these historic buildings loses the battle with the elements. It is this same sadness, this quiet feeling of nostalgia, which moves ordinary people to preserve the past.
In 2007, Oklahoma celebrated her 100th birthday. This was a pivotal year for the state. It marked a time in which Oklahoma was recognized as a mature adult among states. Gone were those early bumbling days of insecurity and political upheavals. Thousands came to celebrate Oklahoma's birthday, and a strong sense of state pride was everywhere.
Oklahomans began to look back on their tumultuous history and into their own back yards. Over time, people began to remember the importance of Main Street, and slowly, people began to make a change.
In 1985, the Oklahoma Main Street Program was established. Interest in the program was moderate, but as Oklahoma approached its 100th birthday, many communities quickly signed on. It seemed as if every small town in Oklahoma wanted to take part. Today, 42 towns actively participate in the Oklahoma Main Street Program.
Of course, many more communities in Oklahoma have their own revitalization programs. A growing number of cities and towns have started volunteer programs, doing everything from simple landscape maintenance to completely rebuilding historic structures. The list of historic buildings in Oklahoma on the National Register of Historic Places numbers at 1,162, and growing constantly. It seems that those forlorn and forgotten Main Street’s are slowly gaining new life.
The Future of Main Street
When people band together for the common good, amazing things happen. It only takes a few hours of time, and a sense of determination to change the atmosphere of a town. In many places across Oklahoma, individuals are banding together to preserve their lost heritage. For some, it may be something as simple as reminding another of the towns past glory. For others, it could be joining a group to purchase a building downtown, and then rebuilding it. There are thousands of things that we can do to restore our lost Main Streets, we only must have the drive and determination to make it happen.
It only takes a small step to begin a journey of a thousand miles.
Forgotten TreasuresClick thumbnail to view full-size
Restored Main StreetsClick thumbnail to view full-size
In a small town somewhere in Oklahoma, a family strolls down the side of an old brick road, stopping every now and again to gaze into the windows of some random shop. Laughter from children racing down the sidewalks can be heard echoing off the historic brick buildings as the family stops to rest at a well-manicured park. The father’s sigh of peace blends in quietly with the water trickling down from an ornate fountain. This is Main Street Oklahoma.
The next time you visit one of these small towns, think about the history behind them. If it wasn't for these main street programs that help revitalize these small towns, a great amount of history would be lost. Next time you have an opportunity to help support your local main street programs, consider the implications - it's well worth it, for us and for our children.
© 2010 Eric Standridge