You can believe whatever local lore you want, and even tell it to others, but Tahlequah does not mean “two is enough.”
It was more likely named for one of the towns back east, said Beth Herrington, who narrated a local history tour last weekend.
If it has to do with Cherokee County history, Herrington will be involved. The retired music teacher fills her retirement time with a passion for preservation.
History tours, like one May 18, are creative fundraising ideas to help with upkeep and events at the Thompson House, and to build an endowment fund for long-term maintenance.
For a $15 donation, about 20 people rode a bus three hours around town from the Cherokee Capitol Square to various historic sites, toured two private homes, and visited two cemeteries – all accompanied by a non-stop account of facts and funnies by Herrington. As the bus passed historic homes, she would explain who lives there now, who built the home, and what they contributed to the town.
Estelle Crow Lawrence was interested in learning the true history of the community.
“The guide has done her homework. And it’s all so easy riding on the bus,” she said.
Barb Dailey moved here four years ago. She’s taken the Cherokee Nation history course and was on the tour to add to her knowledge.
“I’m wanting to absorb as much as I can about my new home. I’m fascinated by the history and culture of the area. I plan to stay here,” Dailey said.
Crews were working to replace the cupola atop the Cherokee Courthouse as visitors listened to the story of the beginnings of a community many call home. In the early 1800s, “old settlers” were moving west. Cherokee people, traveling in bands of 1,000, also found themselves moving into an area known as Indian Territory. In summer 1839, between 14,000 and 17,000 old settlers met with the new settlers from the Trail of Tears and signed a pact, Herrington said.
“They decided to make Tahlequah the Capitol Square,” she told the group, standing under a shade tree. “The original township was 160 acres, from the creek behind us, to Mission Street, south from First Street, to the edge of the college campus.”
From 1867 to 1869, workers constructed the capitol building, which was occupied in 1870 by the chief and other leaders. After statehood, the building was used by the town for county offices. It wasn’t until 1970 the building was returned to the Cherokees.
“Tahlequah is a city of firsts,” Herrington said. “I coined that term in the 1970s. We had the first education offices and superintendent of education west of the Mississippi, and the first school. Anna Hought opened a subscription school in 1845.”
Parents paid money or food, or boarded a teacher for a time, so their children could attend a subscription school, she said. In 1846, the first public school was opened. In 1853, the first Masonic Hall was established. The first flour mill was here in 1880. And by 1891, the first incorporated bank opened in Staples Store, which was also the location of the first telephone west of the Mississippi River.
“Ed Hix saw a telephone at the World’s Fair and thought Tahlequah should have one,” she said.
As her gaze moved to look across the street, Herrington said, “The big fire of 1895 burned the whole block from where Kimberly’s is now, Delaware Street to Shawnee Street. The fire started in a livery stable. A law was passed after the fire, requiring buildings to be made of brick or stone, not just wood.”
Above what is now Edie’s Fashions was the first hospital, Herrington said as the bus moved along.
Leoser Cabin, dating to 1833, is the oldest standing building in Tahlequah. It was built by Dr. I.D. Leoser, from Pennsylvania. He married Susan Agnew and raised a family there. A two-story white home standing beside the cabin was built by a daughter in 1906 or ‘07, Herrington said. The home still belongs to the family, and is under their care.
Sue Agnew was taking her first history tour.
“It’s great! We’ve been here about 45 years and I’ve often wondered about some of these homes and the settlement of the town, the history,” Agnew said. “Beth is a great treasure to have in this community with her research. My husband, Brad, is a historian.”
Next to W.W. Hastings Hospital, Ross Cemetery, from land donated by freedman Stick Ross, was a brief stop.
“Stick Ross gave part of his allotment for the cemetery. He’s buried in this cemetery,” Herrington said. “The land belongs to the county, but the city maintains it.”
Across from the sandstone home where the presidents of Northeastern State University live is the regal, blue Rosamund House, built in 1887 by Gideon Morgan, a postmaster from the Tennessee area. It was built during the same time Seminary Hall was built, Herrington said.
“It became the second hospital in town,” she said. “Today, it belongs to the university.”
Another bit of lore Herrington wanted to correct was about Ned Christie.
“When the Female Seminary burned down, Ned Christie was on the Cherokee Council. He lived over by Wauhillau and decided to stay in town that night and sleep by the creek. He came to Ma Snell’s to buy liquor and got liquored up with some other men,” Herrington said. “In 1887, a black child saw a shooting of a drunk guy. He was shot by the son of a prominent family and it was blamed on Ned Christie. When the boy was an old man, he told what he’d been too afraid to tell as a child.”
The stone Castle House on the hill above the Rosemund House was built between 1928 and 1934 by M.E. Franklin, an industrial arts teacher at NSU, she said. Later, the Franklins ran the Redmen Shoppe.
“The walls are a foot thick. The workers made 20 cents a day to built it,” she said. “Today, it is owned by a woman in California. The man living there is restoring it. He’s a musician.”
This area is known as Knowledge Knot, Herrington said of the homes south of the university on the Downing, Morgan, College, Mission, Shawnee and other streets, because so many professors lived there. In 1880, Bacone College started here, she said of a building now used by NSU for Cherokee studies. Bacone moved to Muskogee a couple of years later. The Bedwell Home, across from the original high school, which is now the Alternative School, was built in 1906 in the Queen Ann style, as are several other homes in town.
The Jones Powell Antoine Home was build in 1905. It has the round copper dormer on Downing Street. Bob and Charlotte Sanders kept roomers here in the 1920s, Herrington said.
“She was a strict Methodist. One of the girls brought a gun from home and when asked, said the girls didn’t feel safe because the front door wasn’t locked at night, and they’d heard footsteps on the stairs. Mrs. Sanders assured the girls the door was always locked,” Herrington said. “The next morning, a little investigation turned out to be squirrels, not a ghost, or intruder, making the noise.”
The white two-story on the corner of College and Downing was originally a one-story boarding house where some members of the Dawes Commission stayed, and meetings were held. Drs. John and Tom Allison put the second story on. Judge and Paula Burris lived here a while, Herrington added.
In 1888, the Methodists established a church where the Church of Christ is now, across from Sequoyah Elementary. It was rebuilt from its Park Hill location exactly like it was, but without a slave gallery, Herrington said.
On Shawnee Street, Karen Coody Cooper welcomed the group into the home she and husband Jim Roaix share, originally built by drugstore owner Jeptha Crew. It features period architecture and showcases their collections of baskets, Frankoma pottery and antiques.
“It’s pretty original to the way it was built,” Cooper said. “I like the high ceilings. It makes the rooms feel like they have a lot of space. And I love the front porch.”
Grace Sweeney, who moved to Tahlequah in 2006, thinks the tours are a fun way to enjoy time with friends.
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