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Ardmore, Oklahoma – Main Street

Main Streets 2017: Oklahoma

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2 Matthew Rutledge
3 Santa Fe Depot
1 Primary 2 2 Matthew Rutledge 3 Santa Fe Depot

Wide and atmospheric, Main Street recalls this small city’s bygone frontier days.

Ardmore is the cultural and economic hub of Arbuckle Country, a 10-county region of south-central Oklahoma named for the ancient, forest-covered Arbuckle Mountains just north of town. Oil was discovered nearby in the early years of the auto age, and its economic benefits have been combined with the community’s commitment to preserving and improving downtown. You’ll find impressive venues here for the fine and performing arts, along with shops, restaurants and the historic Santa Fe Depot railroad station.

Halfway between Dallas/Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, Main Street began as a plowed ditch in a frontier town. Ardmore began growing in earnest after the Santa Fe Railroad came in the 1880s, and the town became a regional trading center.

Residents rebuilt after an 1895 fire — and in the early 1900s, Ardmore became a high-traffic cotton port, where wagons would line up by the hundreds awaiting their turn at The Cotton Exchange. The Exchange today is “a beautifully restored building offering retail shopping and loft apartments,” says the Ardmore Main Street Authority, whose citizen volunteers are dedicated to promoting and preserving downtown.

The oil boom began with the 1913 discovery of the Healdton Oil Field, still one of the largest ever found in Oklahoma. This became, and still is, Oklahoma’s largest oil-producing area. Residents rebuilt the downtown again in 1915 after a second big fire — and today’s Main Street features a number of historic, restored buildings that date from the frontier era. The Santa Fe Depot, built in 1916 right on Main, is served by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer, with daily service from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Among the downtown attractions are the Greater Southwest Historical Museum, whose exhibits, school programs and collections highlight the history and culture of south central Oklahoma. Within the Historical Museum, the Military Memorial Museum showcases military history. Heritage Hall, formerly the Ardmore Civic Auditorium, is an Art Deco structure that was renovated several years ago and is a favorite venue for concerts and downtown gatherings.

And inside the Ardmore Public Library, the Eliza Cruce Hall Doll Museum houses a collection of more than 300 rare and antique dolls from the United States and Europe.

Santa Fe Depot photo taken by Mitchazenia
Additional photos taken by Matthew Rutledge

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Tahlequah, Oklahoma – Muskogee Avenue

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

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