Main Streets 2016: Oklahoma
Set in the lake country of northeastern Oklahoma at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Tahlequah’s main street, Muskogee Avenue, is the oldest in the state. This community, in fact, was incorporated by the Cherokee National Council in 1839 — more than half a century before Oklahoma even became a state.
There are many stories, even legends, behind the city’s name, but most scholars agree that the name has Cherokee origins. After the Cherokee were forcibly moved to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, Tahlequah became the new capital of Cherokee Nation. Today, with its strong Native American history and rich heritage, Tahlequah is the capital of two federally recognized tribes: the modern Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
The town also takes pride in being home to Northeastern State University, Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher learning. Both the university and the Cherokee Nation headquarters help to fuel the local economy and enrich the community’s culture.
Much of Tahlequah’s everyday life can be found right on North and South Muskogee Avenue. Norris Park is a popular community gathering spot and hosts a number of events that bring locals together. The childhood classic Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, is set in this area — and each spring, Tahlequah’s Red Fern Festival celebrates the book’s culture, with hound-dog field trials, fern sales, cookoffs and classic children’s games. During the warmer months, residents enjoy free “Movies in the Park,” hosted by the Tahlequah Main Street Association. When the temperature drops, the group also hosts its signature event, Wines of Winter.
Historic Cherokee Square, another community gathering spot on North Muskogee, hosts Arts on the Avenue, a free event that displays a variety of artwork by artists from Oklahoma and nearby states. Further down on South Muskogee, the annual Cherokee National Holiday is a “homecoming” festival that commemorates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution and celebrates Cherokee heritage, culture and spirit.
Along with these festivals and celebrations, Muskogee Avenue offers shoppers and diners a number of independently owned eateries and boutiques. All contribute to the special atmosphere of this historic main street.
Street photo courtesy of Drew Haley – Tahlequah Main Street
Red Fern Festival photo courtesy of Josh Newton – Tahlequah Daily Press