Born in Dust and Hope
Easter Sunday, April 1889, hopeful settlers waited for Monday’s rising sun with its promise of renewal, rebirth, a new start in a new land. How poignant those services must have been as the wagons rolled in and men, women, and even children prepared themselves for the first great race for land on the American continent.
By sundown the next day, hopes had been realized, hopes had been dashed, and Hennessey, an Oklahoma First City, was a welter of tents and wagons, a new town on the prairie. Four quarters had been claimed by the Hennessey Town-Site Company of Messrs.’ John L. Blair, E. C. Creech, Jacob U. Shade, and Canada H. Thompson, and these stalwart entrepreneurs were selling town sites and collecting cash.
When you walk the streets of Hennessey, you walk through the history of Oklahoma. We were here at the beginning and we have seen it all. Welcome to Hometown Oklahoma.
101 S Main—InterBank
Nothing remains of this block but photos and memories, yet it evolved rapidly from a business district of frame structures, to brick, and finally to the financial center it has become today. Hennessey had one of the earliest moving picture houses in Oklahoma and, at one time, had both the Ortman Theatre and the Electric Theater facing one another on opposite sides of Main. At that time, Czech films were shown in the Electric Theater.
Art students of Dr. Bob Palmer, Professor of Art at University of Central Oklahoma, painted the mural on the north wall of the bank.
Park in the bank parking lot and walk north.
Walk across Main (Hwy 81) going west.
There are so many pieces of our story here, in this park created to hold our memories, our achievements, and the honor due our people. When historical markers were first placed across the state in the 1950’s, Kingfisher County had more than any other, and many of them are found here. Hutoka Ortman, one of our strong Hennessey women, led the movement to purchase the markers, giving free admission to the Ortman Theatre to those who would donate and challenging the community to fund the markers in Oklahoma’s bi-centennial year. Coffee money was donated. Gold Hennessey O.T. Bricks were sold, and most of the money was raised in one day.
The Hennessey community initially purchased five markers, including one marking Buffalo Springs near Bison in Garfield County.
Begin at the Pat Hennessey Massacre Marker.
One of the last victims of Red River War, 1874, Irish freighter Pat Hennessey has become the center of historical controversy. Was it indeed Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa warriors returning angry from their defeat at Adobe Walls that killed Pat Hennessey, or was it white horse thieves dressed as natives?
Annette B. Ehler, Oklahoma Hall of Fame honoree and one of the first women to be elected mayor of a town in Oklahoma, immortalized her version of the story in granite at the Hennessey gravesite on Arapaho Street, west of this location. Be sure to visit the grave and inland lighthouse while you are in the area.
Tom McGee, Kingfisher County Superintendent of schools, scripted a Pat Hennessey Massacre pageant presented in the canyons west of town and dramatized the account given by John Miles, Indian Agent at the time of the death. The George Ortman film of the pageant shows dramatic scenes of natives on horseback and racing wagons.
The Pat Hennessey Massacre was also the closing act of the 101 Wild West Show, but the Hennessey pageant and parade were unique in that the last resistance of a defeated people was memorialized by the descendants of the victors in the actual locale of the event. The Ortman film of the pageant has been restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation and is available for viewing at the Sam and Burla Snyder Memorial History Center at the library.
Roy Cashion Statue
This is the first outdoor statue commissioned by the Legislature of the Territory of Oklahoma in 1899. Local donations, pennies from school children, and a legislative warrant were used to make the purchase. It has been moved at least once, having originally been placed in a location near the present day rodeo grounds on the east side of town.
At 17, Roy Cashion was the first Oklahoman to sign up for a quick trip to Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt, the first to make the dash up that long hill at Santiago, and the first Oklahoman to fall in battle on foreign soil.
Hennessey men and women have never held back when their country has made a call for young lives and the many memorials in this park, attest to their faithfulness and patriotism.
L.A. Ferrel’s Pat Hennessey Monument
L.A. Ferrel is an excellent example of the best of the pioneer spirit. In the 1893 Run into the Cherokee Strip, he filed on a quarter near Lahoma and, later, became president of the Bank of Lahoma. In 1899, he graduated in the third graduating class of the Territorial Normal School at Edmond, today’s University of Central Oklahoma, the first institution of higher learning in the territory. With his lifetime teaching certificate, he became superintendent of schools in Geary and Chandler for four years.
For 41 years, he was the president of the historic Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Hennessey which you will visit later in this tour, and he served as president of both state and district banker’s associations in his lifetime.
He took a chance in a land race and won the opportunity to help set the direction for the banking industry of Oklahoma.
The O.T. Brick
Can you find the Hennessey Oklahoma Territory Brick? Look in the brickwork around the water faucet in the park. It’s a working brick as well as a historical artifact. Hennessey history is like that, not lost in the past, but continuing on into the day-to-day of the present, continuing to touch the lives of 3rd and 4th generation Oklahomans as we move into our future.
The Hennessey clay is difficult to farm, but is ideal for brickmaking and there were several brickworks in the area in the early days. The O.T. brick was made by the Lane and Ballow Brick Yard prior to 1907. The shale pit west of town, south of Highway 51 is all that remains of the brick yard today, but the extremely hard Lane bricks can still be found in the oldest sections of sidewalk. A. E. Lane changed the O.T. markings on the face of his bricks and some of them can still be seen at the library in the Territorial Garden. Look for the diamond pattern.
Farmers Co-op ElevatorLooking west from Memorial Park, you will see the Farmers Co-op elevator. Listed on the National Register of historic places, these concrete cylindrical storage bins were built between 1931-1938 with their greatest economical significance from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. This location is still a busy place during harvest as the trucks move in and out with their loads of wheat. Farming and ranching brought the early settlers in and, today, still form two sides of Hennessey’s economic triangle. Oil was the latecomer, but still is significant for the town’s prosperity. Hennessey’s economic triangle rests solidly on the sand and red clay of Oklahoma land. Hutoka Ortman tells the story of a Hennessey bad man who was killed and walled up in the concrete as it was poured for the elevator. Listen. Do you hear him wailing?
Cross Kansas walking south to Shade’s Brick Block.
Kansas to Oklahoma
122 N. Main--Ehler’s Big StoreThough this entire town block is designated as Shade’s Addition, Jacob U. Shade built a single large building on lots 2-4 and the building itself was called Shade’s Brick Block. It was unique in that it was a full 75 feet wide and 100 feet deep. Shortly after its completion, it was purchased by Fred Ehler who opened Ehler’s Big Store and expanded to the north. The Big Store was the Wal-Mart of the Plains with sundries, clothing, and groceries for one-stop shopping. Sam Walton's maternal grandparents made their home in Hennessey and, as a boy, he would have spent much time in Ehler's Big Store.
There was also a Big Store in Kingfisher where young Sam Walton and his family came in from their farm to shop on Saturdays. Walton would take the Big Store concept and turn his corporation into an international commercial giant. This is where it began.
Notice the territorial architecture on the windows on the north side of the building. The Shade’s Block portion was built in 1893 with local brick.
Mr. Fred Ehler married Annette Blackburn Haskett, a young widow and energetic newspaper woman who became editor of the Hennessey Clipper and mayor. The partnership was dynamic and impacted both Hennessey and the fledgling state of Oklahoma.
110 N. Main—The Ranch Room
In 1946, G.E. and Hutoka Ortman returned from a trip to Branson, Missouri with a vision for the newly acquired building north of their theater. In one of the restaurants where they had eaten, there was a dining room out of public view and finished in the Ozark style: open beams, polished cedar panels and stone. The Ortmans knew they had found the rustic "look" they wanted for their Ranch Room.
They hired local carpenters to build a building within a building, creating the illusion of a one story, pitched roof structure inside the first-story walls of the old two-story building. The result was magic. After a door was cut to access the theater in the building to the south, the Ranch Room became the concession area for the movie house and the social center for Hennessey teens. Many successful Hennessey marriages were first proposed on the sofa under the windows looking into the back room . Today some of those couples still meet and socialize, sipping Vernost wines at the hand carved bar. Can you find G.E. Ortman’s brand?
Empty Lot—The Ortman Theatre
Hennessey’s movie house history begins in 1909 with a moving picture establishment across the street in lot #7. By 1926, there was a theater in this location.
Let it not be said this lot is empty; there are memories here, strong and enduring. August 29, 1933. Garwood and Hutoka Ortman brought first run film to Hennessey, opening with College Humor starring Bing Crosby. Tickets were 20 cents for adults, 10 cents for children, and the shows changed 3 times a week with 3 shows on Saturday night.
In 1954, the Ortmans introduced Panorama to Hennessey, making this one of the few small towns in Oklahoma to enjoy the blockbusters of the 1950’s and 60’s as they were intended to be seen. Mrs. Ortman was recognized with many citations and honors from Boxoffice Magazine for “Meritorious Showmandizing.”
The Ortmans were vital to the progress of Hennessey with G.E. serving as Mayor and Hutoka as a Councilwoman. Hutoka was the driving force in the creation of the Hennessey Public Library in 1936, offering several “book matinees” where patrons could bring a book in lieu of a ticket. The theatre closed in 1986. Memorabilia may be seen at the Hennessey Public Library
108 N. Main—Original Land Grant
104 N. Main—Bank of Hennessey
In 1893, when money became more important than nails, and the brick works on the edge of town were busy baking bricks for the buildings going up on this block, this solid structure replaced the frame hardware building of Frisk and Strunk and was originally the Hennessey State Bank.
Later it became Cooks’s Dry Goods Store and was known for its fine fashion revues held at the Electric Theatre in the 1920’s.
Step inside. The bank vault is still in full view.
100 N. Main—The Heart of Hennessey Business
In the beginning, a tent restaurant and lodging house served homesteaders here, but by 1896, O.G.Smith had built a frame hardware store, providing doorknobs and hinges, kegs of nails, rasps and saws to the settlers building a new life on the hard sod of the Oklahoma prairie. By 1893, the Cherokee Strip to the north was open, and Hennessey provided materials needed to build Bison, Waukomis, and Enid. Farmers and businessmen who had not done well had the opportunity to try again in the Strip, and their close association with Hennessey led to a boom in local business. The brick Dawson Building was built in 1910, and the first furniture store in Hennessey did business in the north side of the building.
The Sanborn Maps for 1900 show a buggy repository in the north side of the building, but changes were coming. By 1926, the automobile had arrived and there was an auto sales room across the front of the building, an auto repair shop in the rear, and the Fire Department in the middle.
Chain stores made their appearance after the 1920’s. Pictures of Pat Hennessey parades show a Safeway at this location, and there is a faded sign under the present day mural testifying to the presence of a C. R. Anthony clothing store in the 1960’s.
Dollar Store made this the location for its first store in Hennessey, in the tradition of early merchants who adapted to the changing needs of a growing and diversifying population. This lively corner typifies the entrepreneurial spirit that has built the town and the state.
Notice the original brick sidewalk on the south side of the building.