Tahlequah Daily Press

November 19, 2012

A city of firsts

By JEAN HAVENS
Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Courthouse, the Tahlequah Cemetery, the Leoser Cabin and the Original Townsite Historic District were just a few stops history buffs and those who love Tahlequah made Saturday on the “Tour Historic Tahlequah: A City of Firsts.”

The tour, conducted by local historian Beth Herrington provided participants local myths and many truths on the early development of down town, as well as brief glimpses of the life of young Tahlequah.

This educational tour, covered the periods between the 1840s to the 1930s.

“Tahlequah is a very old city,” said Herrington. “Its folklore is wonderful.”

Herrington said the romantic story of how Tahlequah’s name came to be was great, but, in actuality, the name Tahlequah was derived from a similar town back East.

According to Herrington, Park Hill was founded in 1928, by Cherokees who arrived prior to the Trail of Tears. The band of Cherokees who traveled on the Trail of Tears settled the downtown area. Tahlequah was the first city in Oklahoma to have plotted and surveyed main street, and was originally 160 acres.

“The Cherokee Courthouse area was always the center of town,” said Herrington. She said the building itself began construction in 1867 and was completed in 1869. The original buildings on the site were burnt during the Civil War.

“There were several races involved in the building of the Cherokee Capitol,” she said.

According to Herrington, Joseph “Stick” Ross, a former slave and a descendant of John Ross, helped in the building of the Cherokee Capitol.

The land around the Chamber of Commerce building was once the site of the National Hotel. Herrington said it was a hotel run by entrepreneurial women.

“The Cherokee Supreme Courthouse is the only standing government building in Oklahoma, constructed during this mid-1800s era,” she said.

The corner of Muskogee and Choctaw, was once the site of the Cherokee Nation’s Masonic Lodge, charted in 1848, and was the first Masonic charter in the state.

Other firsts happened in the block across the street from the Cherokee Courthouse Square.

“It was the site of the first post office, established in 1847,” Herrington said. “It was later torn down and a store was built in its place.”

That block is also where the first bank in town was built and the first telephone exchange west of the Mississippi was established.

Herrington told the story of about the first telephone call made in town after the system was connected to Fort Gibson.

“Folklore says that the phone was answered ‘Who is this?’ and the reply was ‘It’s the devil and I’m coming to get you” Herrington said.

Outside the downtown district, the tour bus traveled west to the area where Central Schools used to be and the surrounding neighborhood.

“This was known as Knowledge Knot,” Herrington said. She said that in 1867, Evan Jones established a boarding school for Cherokee children along the 30-acre area. Many faculty members built their houses around the school in the early 1900s.

“Eventually, with the growth of the town, there was no more room,” said Herrington. “They moved the school, by wagons, to what is now Bacone in Muskogee.”

Tahlequah Cemetery was another stop for the historic tour. According to Herrington, the first burial occurred in 1877.

“The story is that a hack driver was talking about who would want to be buried in such a lonely, dismal place,” Herrington said. “He was playing with his gun, and it went off, killing him. He was the first person buried in that dismal cemetery.”

 

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