Miami, Indian Territory, came into existence on March 2, 1891. A transplanted Kansan, Wayland C. Lykins, envisioned a brand new town. He had to travel to Washington D.C. in order to get approval of a township patent. While there, he met Thomas P. Richardville, chief of the Miami tribe. With Richardville’s help, i.e. speaking to the U.S. Indian Commissioner, and Lykins purchasing the needed property from the Ottawa Indians (again, with Richardville’s help), the town was born.
Lykins invited Richardville to name the town, and he chose the name of his tribe as a suitable moniker. Pronounced Mi-am-UH!
Furrows were plowed across the prairie marking city streets. Townsite company offices were opened at the present-day site of Osborn Drugs on West Central. The first deed was held by Dr. W.L. McWilliams, which he used to construct his two-story house at the corner of E. Central and B.
The first store was a 14 x 20 foot structure built by G.W. Bingham, located where the city hospital now sits. It opened for business on June 11.
The town’s first drug store was built that same year of 1891 by Dr. W.L. McWilliams. It sat on South Main, across from where the fire station would be. McWilliams’ most enduring legacy was built in 1892, at the SW corner of Central and Main. It was a two-story structure which, in 1901, received a third, and which became Miami’s vaunted McWilliams Opera House.
At the time, that corner was so far removed from the main part of town that many joked that his building was out in the country! The main business locale was two blocks south. Incidentally, McWilliams became Miami’s first postmaster in 1895.
On December 1, 1892, Clarence Miami Page was born, Miami’s first baby. Clarence would go on to become a miner, as would many other Miami men. By 1909, there were plans for an electric railway to Picher, making commuting simple. More on that a little later.
There was a law preventing the sale of liquor on Indian land. But the privately-owned town now was open for booze. By 1895, there were four saloons operating, when city government was finally formed. Under Miami’s first mayor, H.H. Butler, local legislation was quickly passed banning them. It would be after prohibition’s repeal before Miami would once again have bars.
L.B. Zilar became the town’s first photographer, and many early Miami photos were actually his work. His wife Martha opened Miami’s first clothing store, at present-day 101 S Main.
In 1896, the first train rolled into Miami. Lykins donated $30,000 in property so that the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railway would run tracks into town. By 1901, Frisco acquired the KC,FS&M and had laid tracks to Afton, creating an artery which would cause 25-30 trains to pass through Miami daily.
In 1900, Charley Doan opened a tin shop. In 1947, he sold out and started a new business with his nephew. The nephew’s son, Phil Trussler, is still running Trussler Services, a connection of 118 years! Read the details here.
Shortly afterwards, the Palace Drug Store opened across the street from the opera house, at 1 N Main. By 1912, it had been replaced by Hadley Drug. In 1929, Crown Drug purchased Hadley’s. And in 1966, Zip Discount Drugs replaced Crown, and stayed open until some time in the 70’s. That’s over 70 years continuous use as a drug store. The building presently houses KGLC’s studios.
By 1902, Millner Brothers had a hardware store located on N Main. Ed Millner would sell out to Belk’s 65 years later, an impressive business run.
Botts and Sons sold groceries, boots, and shoes on Main in 1902. In 1908, Floyd Botts left retail and started his own wholesale business. Botts Wholesale was sold in 1977, a 75-year run of sales!
In 1905, lead and zinc were discovered while drilling north of town on Indian-owned land. That led to the founding of the Emma Gordon Mine, and riches for four investors: James F. Robinson, Charles M. Harvey, George L. Coleman, and Alfred Coleman. Lots more mines would be drilled in that area, and mining would be Miami’s main source of income until the middle of the century.
In 1906, a Mr. H.F. Reniker obtained the first vehicle in town, a one-cylinder Cadillac. Since the streets were prairie dirt which quickly transforms to mud, it was of limited use.
By the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Miami had grown from a dream to a town of 3000. When Lykins died in 1909, it was up to 5000. The Ottawa County Ice Company opened up at Central and NE D about then. Part of its structure is still standing.
In 1908, convicted murderer John Hopkins was hanged in the county jail yard for the only legal execution to take place in Ottawa county.
Also in 1909, Miami was challenged as county seat by a group of businessmen bent on starting their own town in the center of Ottawa county. The non-existent town was called Hilburn. A special election decided the matter, 1544 to 1072 in favor of keeping Miami as the now official county seat. Hilburn never came to be.
In 1910, Main Street began to be paved, starting with South Main.
In 1911, it was decided that Miami needed a permanent courthouse. T.L. Robinson was awarded the contract to house the facility (for $2900) in the building he was erecting at 1st and North Main, known as the Mining Exchange Building. In 1917, that building was destroyed by fire. It was razed, another building was built there, only to be razed itself for construction of the Coleman Theater in 1929. The present-day restored Coleman ranks among one of history’s finest triumphs.
A year before the fire, a contract was awarded a firm in Muskogee to build a new courthouse on city park land on East Central. A cornerstone ceremony was held on May 23, 1916. By the end of the year, the courthouse was complete, and records were moved out of the ill-fated Mining Exchange Building before the fire.
Additionally, in 1911, the cornerstone was laid for the new high school on NE A. The new school opened in 1912, the former school was sold for $625 to George Nicely, who razed it for the materials.
In 1913, an Oklahoma School of Mines was held at the new Miami High School. Its first night class had 72 attendees. The mining school would eventually come to be known as NEO University.
In 1914, Miami’s first theater opened, the Dreamland, at 12 S Main. It would eventually be renamed the Grand. After closing in 1933, the Ottawa Theater would open at the same spot 12 years later. In 1917, the Glory B opened across the street. It would eventually become the Miami Theater. Both the Miami and the Ottawa would be gone by 1960.
In 1916, the James S. Mabon Building was completed, which still stands. Also that year, a fellow from Lamar, Missouri by the name of Harry S. Truman was employed as a miner, and paid a visit to the Miami post office to pick up a letter from his fiancee named Bess Wallace.
In 1917, construction of large buildings began in earnest. These included the Hotel Miami, the Commerce Building (now St. James Place), the Cardin Building (Security Bank’s longtime home), and the replacement Mining Exchange Building.
In 1918, paving of East Central from Main to the railroad tracks was begun.
In 1919, Miami Baptist Hospital opened. The Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri Railroad was purchased by Miami stockholders, and would soon become the NEO Railroad. Also, by that year, a painter named John (Joseph) Wilson (who once drove a Butterfield stage coach) was running a contractor business. In addition to creating Wilson Paint and Wallpaper, one of Miami’s most successful and well-loved businesses, he also passed his genes on to his grandson, Charles Banks Wilson, who used them in a more artistic way.
Additionally, in 1919 the concrete Ozark Trails pillar was removed from the intersection of Main and Central as a traffic hazard. And the governor signed a decree officially authorizing the Miami School of Mines.
In 1921, the public library opened at its current location. It was replaced by a mid-century-modern rework in 1963. The twenties also saw the arrival of creameries, a meat packing plant, a cheese plant, a bread bakery, a Coca-Cola bottling plant, and two present-day financial institutions: First National Bank, and Security Bank and Trust Company. Additionally, Nott’s Grocery opened in 1926, and continues to be a favorite Miami business. And mention should be made of J. Earl Sandmire, who opened a gas station in 1928 at the corner of 3rd and S Main, and who was still running it 40 years later.
1922 saw Miami’s first highway opened: the diminutive 9′ wide paved road to Afton.
In 1923, a dam was completed across the Neosho River, forming Lake Miami, and frustrating thousands of spoonbills which were used to migrating through town. The dam can occasionally be seen today below the backed up waters from Grand Lake.
By 1924, a paved highway was in place to Commerce. Additionally that year, the Miami Daily News and the Miami Record Herald merged to become the Miami News-Record.
On December 17, 1920, the first run was made of the NEO RR trolley. The OK&M interurban train had already been running since 1917. It had a turnaround at what is now Steve Owens Boulevard. It headed north up Main to present-day 4th Avenue, where it turned left and headed north out of town, following tracks which are now abandoned but which still exist to the point of the Goodrich spur, then continuing straight on to the north. It ran through Commerce and Cardin to Picher. In a day of dirt roads, early automobiles, and horse-drawn wagons, it was a welcome way to get around.
By 1936, the trolley was gone, ditched in favor of buses. This December 20 ad from that year provides a few details.
In April 1927, Miami had its second most severe flood in its history. A flood in 1904, about which very little has been written, crested with the Neosho 27 feet above flood stage. The 1927 flood peaked at 24 1/2 feet. Highways to the east, south, and west were cut off. Airplanes delivered food from Miami to Welch, Bluejacket, and Fairland. Frisco and the KO&M railroads brought emergency supplies into town via train and motorcars. The southwest part of town was inundated, with some houses flooded to their roofs. The Tar Creek bridge across SE 3rd was completely submerged. Spectators on the Frisco bridge were a problem which the railroad had to deal with.
In 1928, an addition NE of town was platted, and was known as Rockdale.
In 1929, eight blocks of Main and six blocks of Central received street lights on 16′ bronze poles, creating a “white way.” A typical Saturday night downtown included 5,000 shoppers, 976 cars, and the NEO trolley running every thirty minutes.
Miami has much more history, but this would be a good place to wrap up its early years. Stay tuned for more.