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Oklahoma Museums: LeFlore County Museum in Poteau, Oklahoma; The Rebirth of a Historic Building
The Roaring 20’s came to Poteau with a boom. While much of the country suffered in the post-war depression, the budding city of Poteau maintained a vibrant economy. In 1910, Poteau’s population numbered at just above 1,182. By 1920, the population skyrocketed to around 2,500. Wealthy businessmen flocked to Poteau in droves, investing in everything from real estate to industry.
Development was at a high during the Jazz Age. In 1924, after 25 blocks of Poteau’s streets were paved, the city held a massive celebration. These newly paved streets were crowded with citizens from all over the county. Automobiles mingled with the old-timers in their horse-drawn buggies while festively costumed citizens promenaded through the streets. Music filled the air as this celebration continued into the small hours of the morning.
As travelers continued to pour in to Poteau, it soon became apparent that the number of accommodations would not hold the influx of visitors. All of this progress prompted Wiley W. Lowrey, a local businessman and land developer, to lay plans for the finest hotel in this part of the country.
The LeFlore Country Historical Museum: The Old Lowrey Hotel
Built in 1922 on a $32,000 contract, the future Lowrey Hotel was first built by W.W. Lowrey to be used as home for retail and office space. Later converted into a luxury hotel, the Lowrey Hotel was a luxurious hotel that would be the envy of any big city.
Today, the hotel stands as a testament to times gone by. Plans were developed a few years back to convert the old building into a new county museum.
Throughout the years, the Old Lowrey Hotel has served various purposes. With each reincarnation, the building has gone through massive changes. In the 1960’s, the lobby was walled off from the entrance and the clestatory windows were covered by massive metal panels on the exterior. Carpet was installed over the original tile floors, and many of the once grand windows were boarded over. As one can imagine, it will take considerable effort to restore the former grandeur of the Old Lowrey Hotel.
The metal panels have been removed, the carpet ripped up, and the partition in the lobby has been torn down. In October 2010, the workers were busy repainting and restoring the second floor.
Today, the museum has made an amazing transformation! With a rotating exhibit on the bottom floor and two other floors of amazing exhibits, the museum is now a showcase building and destination point in downtown Poteau.
The museum focuses on showcasing artifacts that illustrate the history of Leflore County and telling the story of the areas early history. It is now a center for traveling, short term and permanent exhibits as well.
The Grand Old Lowrey: History of the Lowrey Hotel
Wiley W. Lowrey was one of the most prominent men in Poteau. Lowrey served as president of the Oklahoma Immigration Company and was an entrepreneur in the gas and real estate industries. It can be said that if it weren’t for Wiley W. Lowrey, Poteau wouldn’t be what it is today.
Always looking for new investment opportunities, Lowrey understood the need for a modern building in the heart of Poteau. With the arrival of so much so many visitors to Poteau, Lowrey quickly decided to purchase a lot on Dewey Ave. In 1922, construction on the three-story Lowrey Building began.
First conceptualized as an upscale office building, the Lowrey Building incorporated retail spaces that spanned the ground floor. Among these retail spaces were a barbershop, a jewelry store, and cleaners. The second and third floors were set aside as office space.
This office building would ultimately live a very short life. Sometime around 1930, the office building was converted into the Lowrey Hotel. Extensive reconstruction of the building followed. The old barbershop was converted into a two story tall lobby. The jewelry store and the cleaners was gutted and converted into the dining room and a coffee shop. In that same section, a full service kitchen and a mezzanine private dining room complete with a dumbwaiter were added. Arched windows completed the look of an elegant, modern hotel.
The office spaces on the second and third floor were also converted into hotel rooms. Bathrooms were installed, complete with stylish inlaid tiles and modern fixtures. The hotel rooms were stocked with expensive furniture, including fine beds, chairs, pictures and writing desks. Fully carpeted rooms added to the elegance of the times. The building also boasted of a steam heating system. The Lowrey Hotel was as fine as any hotel to be found in any major metropolitan city.
During an age where air conditioning was non-existent, the old Lowrey Hotel remained cool during the summer and warm in the winter. For the traveler, this was a major advantage. This was achieved through the unique construction of the Hotel. The Lowrey Hotel was the first building in Poteau to be constructed of steel and concrete, and it was dubbed as being “fireproof.” The concrete served as excellent insulation in winter, and helped to keep out the heat during the summer.
The Lowrey Hotel soon saw more business than it could handle. Situated on an area of high ground between two railroad depots just off the main highway, the hotel quickly became a favorite stopping place for road weary travelers. In addition to the shops and the rooms, the Hotel Lowrey provided public restrooms and showers. For the traveler, this truly was the finest hotel in the area.
As the years rolled by and growth in Poteau began to slow, the hotel began losing money. Sometime in the early 1960s, the doors were closed and the hotel went out of business.
Since then, the building has been home to the Carl Albert Community College dormitory and the OSU Extension Service office, as well as other short-lived businesses. Each new occupation of the Old Lowrey Hotel brought changes to the building. Until the Leflore County Historical Society acquired the old building in 2008, the old hotel only faintly resembled its former glory.
Today, much of the original building has been restored. Continuing efforts are being made to preserve and restore much that has been lost.
The museum is located in Downtown Poteau.
© 2010 Eric Standridge