The Pierce Pennant Tavern

Miami Businesses

At the corner of N 22nd Street was an impressive white two story building which was a clear memory for Miami’s Boomers. The building had a history equal to its own dignified look.

Postcard showing a Pierce Pennant Tavern (possibly the Miami location). Click to enlarge.

It started out in 1930 as a Pierce Pennant Tavern. “Tavern” in this sense is used in its original connotation as a lodging place for the night. Below is the text from a July 21, 1929 News-Record article announcing the tavern.

Pierce Corporation Is Expected to Begin Construction of Second Unit on Tract North of Here Late in Fall

Construction of a 40-room tourist hotel as the second unit of the Pierce Petroleum corporation’s development two miles north of Miami on U.S. Highway 66 will be started late this year, according to information received from the corporation’s headquarters in St. Louis.  The structure will cost approximately $300,000, it is understood.

The corporation plans to open its first unit, the tourist terminal and restaurant building, now nearing completion on the 10-acre tract, late this month or early in August, according to Edward D. Levy, president.

Similar projects are under construction in Columbia, Mo., and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  Key buildings have been completed in Springfield and Rolla, Mo.  When finished the chain will extend the length of Highway 66, according to T. W. O’Donnell, Oklahoma City district manager.

Development of the chain follows the success of the first hotel built in Rolla, Mo., O’Donnell said.

Eventually the company plans to have these hotels scattered the entire length of the country from 125 to 150 miles apart.  Amarillo and some city to be selected between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, will be the next projects to be started, O’Donnell said.

A detailed description of the company’s tourist terminal program was contained in the May 11 issue of Tavern Talk, hotel trade magazine.  The article was as follows:

“That long stretch of highway extending from coast to coast, from New York to Los Angeles, indicated on the map as U.s. Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 66, may properly be called the ‘Main Street of the Nation.’

“Winding its most direct way from coast to coast, this great national thoroughfare passes through a territory that is the center of the Nation’s population and wealth.

“Within parallel boundaries, just a day’s ride to the north and to the south of these highway, we find 66 percent of the population of the United States.

“Sixty-six percent of the nation’s wealth—

“Sixty-six percent of the 23,000,000 registered motor vehicles—

“Sixty-six percent of the tourists travel over the two great connecting highways.

“What a pathway for modern development!  Visualize, if you will, that great army of motor tourists who travel U.S. Highways 40 and 66 annually.  Picture the accommodations necessary for their comfort and convenience.  Hotels and restaurants.  Service stations for their automobiles.  You are visioned the inspiration for the building of pennant terminals and hotels.

“Pennant hotels and terminals are a project of the Pierce Petroleum corporation, famed for Pennant petroleum projects, with headquarters in St. Louis.  The undertaking has attracted the interest of hotel operators throughout the Southwest.

“The Pierce company has for its president E. D. Levy, able executive and transportation authority and one-time general manager of the Frisco railroad.

“The Pennant Terminal system contemplates the building of tourist accommodations approximately 125 to 150 miles apart along U.S. Highways 66 and 40 from Los Angeles to New York.

“Hotel units will be built at all terminal points, but during 1929 they will be available only at the Rolla, Mo., terminal and Columbia, Mo., terminal.

“These hotel units of 40 modern rooms will be equipped with the very finest appointments money can buy and every comfort for the traveler has been given the utmost consideration.

“At Rolla and Springfield, Mo., the Pierce Petroleum corporation last year erected and had in operation during the greater part of the touring year the forerunners of the present terminal.

“This year, profiting from the initial year’s lessons, improvements have been made, enlargements have been decided upon, refinements have been added, and the result will be the most elaborate and distinctive utility of its type on any highway.

“With plans to open by June 1, and construction already under way, a new Pennant terminal will serve the motoring public at Columbia, Mo., on U.S. Highway 40, midway between the two Missouri metropolis of Kansas City and St. Louis.  The chain will be extended further into the Southwest on U.S. Highway 66, with units being established and opened about June 1, at Miami and Tulsa, Okla., Rolla, Mo., is being improved and enlarged to meet the increased demands of 1929.

“Each Pennant terminal will have a complete restaurant, restrooms for men and women, emergency hospital, lounge, and refreshment facilities, in addition to complete service station equipment.

“Close to $1,000,000 will be spent in the development of Pennant terminals this year, building comforts for the American tourist, with the expectation of materially increasing the construction budget in 1930.

“In addition to the hotel units now in course of construction at Rolla and Columbus, Mo., it is the intention of the corporation later in the year is commence construction of a terminal building and hotel unit near Springfield, Mo., a terminal building and hotel unit near Oklahoma City—and to construct one hotel unit each at Miami and Tulsa, where the corporation is now engaged in constructing terminal buildings.

“Fred Hutchinson, a former hotel man and at one time with the Greystone Hotel, Bedford, Ind., has supplied Tavern Talk with a description of the Pierce hotels and terminals.  Mr. Hutchinson is superintendent of terminals for the Pierce corporation.

“Each of these terminals is located on a minimum of 10 acres of land outside of the city limits, and having a minimum frontage of 600 feet on the highway.  This 10 acres of land is to be placed in landscaping.  In the center of the 10 acres is to be constructed the terminal building, and grouped around the terminal building in the landscaping is to be one or more hotel units of 40 rooms each.  The number of these 40-room units that will be constructed will depend upon the business done at each place and the necessity for extension.  To begin with, only one 40-room unit will be constructed.

“The hotel units being built by the corporation will be far ahead of anything ever constructed for tourist use and will be equal to or better than the modern hotels in the larger cities.  The building is fireproof throughout.

“The entire fire floor is a garage, there being garage space for the 40 guests rooms.  One each of the first and second floors are 16 guest rooms and on the third floor eight guest rooms, a total of 40 guest rooms.  On the top floor are five rooms without bath for chauffeurs and these rooms can only be occupied by bonafide chauffeurs actually driving tourists.

“Each one of the guest rooms is an outside room and has an outside private bath.  The furniture and equipment in the guest rooms will be above that of the average hotel in the large cities.  The bath rooms will be floored with rubber tile, lined with white tile, and equipped with circulating ice water, hot and cold water tub and shower.  Both bed rooms and bath rooms will be equipped with an electric fan.

“The springs, mattresses, linens, towels, blankets, carpets, draperies, etc., will be equal to the better hotels in the large cities.

“Each bed room will be 12×16 and will be equipped with two beds.

“The halls throughout will be covered with inlaid rubber tile and all of the woodwork in the halls and bed rooms will be finished in polished automobile lacquer, no ordinary paint being used in the interior.

“In addition to each room having two full sized beds, when there is an infant in the family, a modern steel trundle bed will be placed in the room for the occupancy of the infant without any charge to the family.

“The Pierce corporation invites guests to do such washing as they care to do in their rooms, and has provided the proper facilities for them.  In the clothes closet of each room has been placed an electric drier, a folding ironing board and an electric iron.

“In the basement of each terminal building is a modern steam laundry for laundering the linen of the terminal and hotel buildings.  This laundry will work nights and tourists delivering their laundry to hotel employees before 9:00 p.m. can have it returned to them any time they desire after 4 a.m. the next morning.

“Each one of the 40 guest rooms is identical and the rates will be $4.00 or a single room, and $10.00 for four in each room.

“There will be no charge for the automobile in the garage.  During the night each machine will be vacuumed out, all the glass washed and polished and the car given water and air without any charge.  If gasoline, or or grease is desired, the tourist of course will pay for it.

“The charge for a chauffeur’s room without bath will be $1.00 per person.

“An investigation made by the corporation developed the fact that the average tourist car contained three people and that in a large proportion of cases all of the occupants of the car wanted to occupy one room, and for this reason the rooms were built large and equipped with two full sized beds which will make them serve for one, two, three or four persons.

“Upon alighting from his automobile under a massive white pillared canopy and entering the spacious doors of the terminal, the visitor will be immediately impressed by the depth of the main waiting room.  Depending upon the season, his senses will react to its cool coziness or satisfying warmth.  In the chill days of late spring or early fall, he will find an open fireplace at the end of the room, logs blazing merrily, just the tang of wood smoke redolent of the Ozark backwoods hanging in the air, inviting a relaxing “stretch” before its hearth.  Summer, with its heat and glare and dust, is quickly transformed by the refreshing coolness of the well ventilated lounge, huge ceiling fans silently wafting synthetic lake breezes to the massive and comfortable divans and easy chairs.  This room is 50 feet long and 35 feet wide, backed by a soda fountain for soft drink and sandwich service, with tables and chairs to accommodate 50 guests.

“To the left of the main waiting room will be three rest rooms for women.  The first is a French renaissance room, oddly in contrast to the Colonial simplicity of the public lounge, yet peculiarly appealing in the loveliness of its feminine appointments.  Then comes the women’s toilet, the floors of which will be inlaid rubber and walls finished in white marble and chromium.  To the left of the French room is an emergency hospital equipped with three hospital beds, with white tables and chairs to match, and three trundle beds for infants.  In the center is a standard hospital operating table, so arranged that normally it assumes the appearance of an ordinary table.  A cabinet containing all the surgical instruments, supplies and appliances necessary for an emergency operation is placed in the wall.  This room has a large double door, so that an ambulance may have easy access.  A trained nurse will be in constant attendance.  Either sex may receive treatment here.

“To the right of the main waiting room will be the men’s toilets, as elaborately equipped as those for the women.  In addition to the manager’s office, a special dining room and toilet for negro chauffeurs is also at this side of the main floor.

“Ascending the winding stairway, rested and refreshed, the visitor seeking satisfaction for the inner man will find awaiting him a modern dining room that for service, cuisine and appointments will be on par with the larger hotels of the country.  With a seating capacity of 100 diners, this room is so built that one-half of it may be closed off to accommodate bridge luncheons and club dinners.  Music, when desired, is convenient, as the facilities include a Victrola, radio and grand piano, and the entire spacious dining room is available for dance purposes.  A modern and compact kitchen is situated at the rear of the dining room.

“In addition to the heating and refrigerating apparatus, the basement is equipped with a modern steam laundry, insuring clean linens at all times for dining service and clean, freshly laundered uniforms for waitresses and attendants.”
(Miami Daily News Record ~ Sunday ~ July 21, 1929)

Spartan School of Aeronautics, aerial view, 1941. Click to enlarge.

The Depression was brutal on the chain, and the Miami location closed in 1935. Two years later, a skating rink was opened in the building. In 1940, the Spartan School of Aeronautics took over the property, and the building was converted to offices and barracks, with more barracks built to the west.

Winart Pottery, 1955. Photo by Ken Ellwood

And in 1953 or possibly a bit earlier, Winart Pottery moved into the old Pennant building, its large arrow out front a distinctive landmark the rest of the decade.

The building is gone now, Karnes Pro Tire and Auto Center now inhabits the block. But a generation of Miami kids remembers the imposing two story building that was a monument to a luxury hotel chain which was the victim of the Great Depression.

The Ozark Trails Association and Miami

Everything Else, News Events

Monte Ne, Arkansas millionaire William Hope “Coin” Harvey was a man of many visions. One need he saw was good roads in the Ozarks. Thus, he formed the Ozark Trails Association in 1913, when automobiles were starting to become common. Its goal was to promote better roads and mark them so that the public could easily find them, and tour Ozark communities without fear of impassible conditions.

The green Ozark Trails signs were soon seen along byways from New Mexico to St. Louis, and pillars were erected at significant crossroads.

One such intersection was Miami’s Main and Central.

In June, 1918, Harvey organized a rally in Miami for the association. He urged the city to prepare for some 12,000 guests, most arriving by motorcar. A tent city was created, and the newly built Hotel Miami was filled to capacity, as were the homes of folks who rented rooms for the occasion.

Harvey suggested that Miami erect three twenty-foot solid concrete pillars: one at their main intersection, the others at the north and south ends of town, to be covered with the names and distances of other towns along the Ozark Trails route.

Thus, should Miami agree to the markers, its own name would be inscribed on other markers all across the mid-south. Harvey estimated that would amount to 300 visitors a day traveling the Ozark Trails route, specifically looking to visit Miami.

The city agreed to build the markers, but only with a concrete base, the rest of them in framed stucco. That would give the Main/Central marker an unexpected durability which would become evident the next year.

So, on June 1, 1918, the three markers were placed at the north end of Main (likely near N Third), near the entrance to Riverview Park, and downtown.

Ozark Trails pillar, shortly before it was removed in 1919. Click to enlarge

Harvey was in town the previous Thursday night, then was off to Joplin, to supervise the two monuments they were erecting.

A big concrete structure on a four foot base in the middle of Main Street. What could go wrong?

Click to enlarge

The Miami Daily Record-Herald of February 25, 1919 reported an accident. Allan R. Ward was driving his lady friend home to Commerce when he whacked the monument and knocked it a foot out of line. The tweaked appearance of the pillar in the illustration to the left suggests it might have been photographed soon afterwards.

The pillar is finally removed. Click to enlarge.

Ward blamed the accident on the curtains in his car blocking his view. Stick with that story, Mr. Ward.

Anyhow, it was determined soon afterwards that the pillar was a traffic hazard. So in April, 1919, it was arranged for a WWI tank to come to town to demolish the pillar, amid great hoopla. The occasion was used to try and drum up support for the Victory Loan of 1919, intended to pay off war costs.

A crowd of thousands watched as Tank #11 went to war with the monument, driving up its side. The monument refused to give in, however, its concrete base firmly anchoring it vertically. The tank only succeeded in pushing it around.

The attached article gives details on the pillar’s final demise. Apparently Miami learned a valuable lesson: Don’t set twenty-foot pillars in the middle of a busy road.

A Brief History of Riverview Park

Everything Else, Miami Social Activities

Trio enjoying the Neosho River in 1913

Riverview Park opening day celebration. Click to enlarge.

A park area has long existed at the extreme south end of Main Street. Photos can be seen of families at the river’s edge in the teens, just south of the first bridge to span the Neosho, very close to the present-day southern bridge’s location.

But on September 1, 1917, Riverview Park officially opened.

Possibly as early as the teens, a small pool and poolhouse was built close to the edge of the river, just north of where the east dam steps are. While flooding was less common in those days, the river did come out of its banks every few years. When discussions took place regarding the location of a huge new pool in 1929, concern was expressed that it be placed in an area less prone to flooding.

In 1923, the concrete dam was built, forming Lake Miami on the free flowing river, and causing spoonbill to gather in huge numbers at the south side, unable to swim upstream for the first time in history.

The Neosho River dam, Lake Miami, and the poolhouse as seen about 1925

A tourist camp sort of sprang up on its own at the present day site of the park on the east side of the river. These were common in towns when automobiles were becoming more commonplace. A family could park, pitch a tent, and spend the night before moving on the next morning. When the Great Depression hit, it became home to displaced folks who lost their homes. In 1930, the city announced that the tourist camp would be closed, and the folks down on their luck were force to move on.

October 7, 1930: The free city tourist camp would be closing

“A condition of disease, filth, and pilfering exists at the park now which makes a sore on an otherwise clean and healthy city” according to mayor W.L. Rush.

But the process wasn’t instant. A June 1931 editorial bemoaned the fact that transients still had tents pitched and permanent summer homes at the park, displacing residents seeking recreation.

In 1930, that huge new pool opened up, and the fact that it is still used today testifies to its amazing design and quality. Our founders didn’t foresee Pensacola Dam, otherwise they might have located the pool elsewhere, but still, it’s not common for floods to inundate it where it sits.

Article outlining the proposed site of the new city pool at Riverview Park dated April 1, 1930.

By 1932, the park was 50 acres in size, on both sides of the Neosho. Lowland grounds were left unmaintained, and improvements were made to higher areas. Four concrete tennis courts were added that year.

In 1933, an Old Settlers Reunion was held at the park. Attending were Harry Lykins, son of the town co-founder, as well as around 250 residents and their descendants who were around in 1891.

A 1934 newspaper article mentions Sunday school being held at a “big” tabernacle at the park, with expected attendance of 250. It was mentioned again in a 1935 article. But no other mentions were made of that tabernacle that I can find.

In 1937, Riverview Park was home to a small zoo run by Grove resident C.F. Tucker. The zoo had 32 animals when opened. These included a camel, llamas, elk, and reindeer.

1932 newspaper article encouraging visitors to the new city pool

The pavilion building just southwest of the swimming pool was likely built as a WPA project in the 30’s.

Riverview continued to be the city’s gathering place through the 40’s and 50’s. Land acquisitions caused it to periodically increase in size. In the early 60’s, a steel submarine was erected by the WPA-built pavilion. And in 1966, a beautiful Mid Century Modern pavilion was built.

Tug-of-war, probable location is Riverview Park, 1935

Riverview Park continues to be a treasured Miami gathering spot today. The dam, approaching 100 years old, is occasionally seen sticking out of the waters now backed up by Pensacola dam. Fishermen line its banks every spring during spoonbill season. And I’ve observed courageous young men wading the river retrieving lost hooks and sinkers, while big spoonbill bump into them in their travels. The park isn’t quite as old as the city, but will remain a part of it as long as the city lasts.

The Ottawa County Fair

Miami Social Activities

At presstime, what is purported to be the 100th anniversary Ottawa County Free Fair is about to be celebrated.

While that is cause for celebration, it’s also about three years too late. Or is it? Read on.

Article from 1956 giving the early county fair history. Click to enlarge.

Article from 1956 giving the early county fair history. Click to enlarge.

The first fair took place in Miami on September 24, 1910. It was simply an exhibit of farmers’ products, judged as to quality. A somewhat larger exposition was held the next year in October. In 1912, the Farmers Institute and Ladies Auxiliary of Ottawa County voted to hold their exhibition of mineral, stock, and agricultural products on October 3-5 of that year at “Riverside Park,” as the park at the south end of Main was known. The 1913 fair was held at Afton. There was no mention of a fair in 1914, other than a single ad in the Live Wire asking if it should be held. They did that the previous three years as well.

Writeup of the second Quapaw fair, mentioning the previous year’s fair.

The Ottawa County Fair as we know it supposedly began in Quapaw in 1914. Apparently, this event was accompanied by some new legislation outlining county fairs, perhaps that’s why it’s counted as the first. It was a one-day affair, held around the end of September. I can’t find a mention in the papers of ANY county fair in 1914. If there was a Quapaw fair that year, it was a tiny one. However, an article in the Miami Record-Herald in 1915 did mention the Quapaw fair the previous year. By the next year, they had added a day, and it ran October 1-2, 1915. The fair received some state support shortly after. An Ottawa County Free Fair Association was formed, and Miami would have enough pull to convince the board that they should host future fairs. They announced on December 31, 1915 that Miami would be offering a place for the fair to land on a permanent basis.

On January 28, 1916, it was officially announced that the first official Ottawa County Free Fair would indeed be held in Miami on September 18-20 of that year, and that they would also have the right to host the fair the following year. Land was set aside at the present day location of H and East Central.

Buildings were erected, the Yankee Robinson Circus announced that they would set up on the site for the last day, and the celebration began on time. The fair was a rousing success, and plans were immediately made for an even better one the next year.

Plans were announced for more construction, including a race track and a stock show ring. But the land was limited on Central. So a decision was made to move it to Riverview Park (on the east side of the river) for the 1917 fair. True to promise, the 1917 fair was indeed bigger and better. And on March 1, 1918, it was announced that yet another fair would be held that year, despite the US involvement in The Great War.

Sometime in the early 20’s, a decision was made to move the fairgrounds across the river. Buildings were erected, and our familiar fairgrounds began to take shape. A 1927 newspaper photo shows the grandstand and racetrack looking pretty much like it does nowadays. In 1938, a WPA project was announced in which a stone wall would be erected around the racetrack, and two large exhibition buildings would be built.

1944 fair is announced, August 6. Click to enlarge

1944 fair is announced, August 6. Click to enlarge.

When the US entered WWII, it was announced that the fair would be suspended for the duration. But that didn’t turn out to be exactly true. The war was evidently going well enough in 1944 that a fair was announced for August 22-27, with wartime restrictions in effect.

So the fair was skipped in 1942 and 1943. It was skipped one more time, in 1957, due to an anthrax outbreak.

Thus, when you do the math, you can see that there have been 102 instances of the Ottawa County fair since 1914. However, the Ottawa County Free Fair wasn’t formed until 1916. And there have been 100 instances of that particular institution, including the 2019 celebration.

Thus, 2019 is indeed the 100th anniversary of the Ottawa County Free Fair.

Ottawa County’s Oldest Resident

Interesting Local Characters

Ottawa county has had some residents reach a ripe old age. Ottawa Indian Lizzie Cedar died on November 3, 1929 at Devil’s Promenade. She was 100 years old. Longtime Miami businesswoman Dena Ander is 103 years old at presstime, and is still chugging along beautifully, looking 30 years younger.

Jane Phelps at the age of 116.

But the grand champion in the age contest is an Ottawa Indian lady by the name of Jane Phelps.

Born on the Maumee River in Ohio in 1766, Jane King was the daughter of a Chippewa-French Canadian father and a French Canadian mother. Eventually she married Kenewabee, the 8th Ottawa signer of the Treaty of the Rapids of Maumee of Lake Eric in 1817. She took on the Indian name Chequah Watbee.  Kenewabee eventually took on the name of William Phelps.

In 1837, the Ottawa were forcibly relocated from Ohio to Kansas, and the Phelps’ had to move. Thirty years later, they relocated to the Ottawa reservation in northeast I.T., in an area which would someday be known as Ottawa county.

“Aunt” Jane learned the healing arts. She mastered the traditional Ottawa secrets of converting plants to medicine for healing. She acted as midwife to the tribe as well, helping bring hundreds of babies into the world. She also mastered three languages: French, English, and Algonkian.

Jane didn’t like sleeping in the dark, nor did she trust the white man’s coal-oil lamps. She slept with hand-dipped candles burning beside her bed.

Jane Phelps’ grave on the Ottawa reservation

In 1866, after an incredible 120 years of life that saw her go from living in an ancient Indian settlement to dwelling in what would eventually become Oklahoma, she passed on. Her grave lies on the Ottawa reservation.

In 1907, Oklahoma became a state, and Ottawa county was born.

So Ottawa county’s oldest resident actually died before Ottawa county was a thing. But she did live and is buried within the county confines, so she is most certainly the old age champion.

Someone tell our own beloved Dena Ander that she has a record to break!

Miami Armature Works

Miami Businesses

In 1916, a young man named Aymer Scholes received a marriage license in Joplin.

Aymer lived in Picher, and was employed as a mechanic by one of the many mining companies that sprang up virtually overnight. By 1920, he and his bride had relocated to Quapaw, and she was a constant subject of social news in the paper. Eventually, they would reside in Commerce, Aymer’s career tied to mining.

Miami Armature Works opens, June 9, 1944

In June, 1944, with a war raging and the mining business brisk, Scholes made a career change, and with partner A.P. Cooper opened Miami Armature Works at 212 NE 1st.

Eventually, Cooper would depart, and another partner would join forces with Scholes, J.D. Helmick.

212 SE 1st, Miami Armature Works’ original home

Around 1964, they moved shop to a brand new metal building at 1925 North Main. The front of the building was done up beautifully in Miami Stone. And that’s where they still are today, over fifty years later.

Son Corbin Helmick runs the shop now, a 75-year-survivor among Miami businesses. The well-worn workbench tells tales of hundreds of motors rewound or otherwise repaired, keeping Miami running.

Here’s to you, Miami Armature Works, for showing the Wardog spirit, and sticking to it.

The well-worn workbench at Miami Armature Works, 2019

Miami Armature Works, at this location for well over 50 years. Check out that Miami Stone, and that vintage sign!

Sanborn Maps from 1896 and 1898

Everything Else

In 1896 and 1898, Sanborn drew up maps of Miami, I.T. They are presented here for your pleasure. Click on each image to see in full (huge!) resolution in a new page.

You might want to have Street Names: Old Vs. New open while exploring.

1896 map of South Main, pretty much the only part of town with buildings. Click to enlarge

Sanborn map from 1898 of SE D and 3rd area

Sanborn map from 1898 of NE 1st area

Sanborn map from 1898 of SE 1st area

Sanborn map from 1898 of NW 1st area

Sanborn map from 1898 of SW 1st area

Sanborn map from 1898 of SW 3rd area

Miami’s Railroads

Miami Businesses

Miami cofounder Wayland Lykins knew that the infant town needed railroad service. So he donated $30,000 in land for a right of way which the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railway would use for tracks, and in 1896 they rolled into town for the first time.

The first KC,FS, & M train rolls into town, September 12, 1896. Click to enlarge

First KC,FS & M train, September 12, 1896, depot seen under construction. Click to enlarge

In 1901, they were acquired by Frisco, which continued to service the town and expand operations. Frisco built a bridge across the Neosho and ran tracks to Afton that year, and Miami became an artery, with 25-30 trains passing through daily.

Frisco bridge across the Neosho, early 20th century. Click to enlarge

Frisco bridge over flooded Neosho River, circa 1911. Click to enlarge

Frisco Bridge, 1909. Click to enlarge.

Frisco terminal 1940’s. Click to enlarge

Frisco Firefly parked at Frisco Terminal, late 1950’s. Click to enlarge

Frisco station robbery, January 4, 1931. Nineteen dollars was a lot of money in a depression!

In 1908, the Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri Inter-Urban Railway Company built four miles of line heading from Miami north to Hattonville, which was later renamed Commerce. More track was soon added to access the burgeoning mine fields.

In June, 1916, they began laying trolley tracks up Main Street connecting to the interurban tracks. The first car ran on Thursday, October 12 of that year, entering Main at N 3rd Avenue, and turning around at S 3rd. The non-electrical cars were less than reliable, and the Herald-Record bemoaned their less-than-stellar service record.

In 1919, Miami stockholders purchased the railroad and renamed it the NEO some time afterwards. Besides making freight and passenger runs, the NEO also ran an electrified trolley from SE 3rd all the way to Picher. The trolley would make the trip every 30 minutes, generally. There, customers could debark and jump on a Southwest Electric Railway trolley and ride to Joplin. The trolley service was discontinued in 1934, and the tracks were removed, some sections being simply paved over.

The NEO Railroad was purchased by Eagle-Picher in 1938.

NEO got a shot in the arm when the Goodrich plant went in in 1943, it hauled materials in and tires out until it closed in 1986. Goodrich kept them busy long after the mining industry staggered to a stop.

NEO trolley car. Click to enlarge

NEO train, 1950’s. Click to enlarge

NEO electric train in Picher. Click to enlarge.

NEO railroad engine in 1954. Click to enlarge

NEO Railroad engine in 1969, in front of North Main depot. The NEO logo has been replaced. Click to enlarge

NEO Railroad trolley ad, 1930. Click to enlarge

The third supplier of train service was the Missouri, Oklahoma, and Gulf Railway. They were in business in Miami, using the line that ran along SE H and which crossed the Neosho just south of Riverview Park, since 1913. In 1919, they filed bankruptcy and were reorganized and the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway took over their holdings. They lasted until 1964, when they were purchased by Texas and Pacific, under the auspices of Missouri-Pacific. They evidently ceased service to Miami at that time, and their roadbed was abandoned.

Building the M,O, and G bridge, 1912. Click to enlarge

The M O and G bridge, 2011. Click to enlarge

M O & G trestle, east side of the Neosho. Click to enlarge.

First M O&G train rolls into town, February 14, 1913

MO&G depot, south of the Frisco, 1915. Note how the tracks turn right and head for the Neosho, MO&G’s tracks ran straight south before crossing.

A fourth railroad company formed in 1917 which deserves a mention: the Miami Mineral Belt Railroad. They were a freight/passenger line which ran from Picher to Quapaw, and terminated at Baxter Springs. In 1923, they leased to Frisco.

While they had Miami in their name, they didn’t actually haul here. It appears that their purpose in life was to give Frisco a shot at the lucrative ore and freight hauling in and out of the mining area. NEO had a virtual monopoly on the business there, but little MMB’s 14.137 miles of track was Frisco’s way of getting in on the fun. In 1950, they were fully absorbed by Frisco and ceased to exist.

Miami Mineral Belt pass, 1919. Click to enlarge

Advertising clock featuring Miami Mineral Belt Railroad. Click to enlarge

1926 ad for Miami Mineral belt Railroad. Click to enlarge

Miami Mineral Belt Railroad route map, 1917

Frisco ceased offering passenger service to Miami in 1960. It hadn’t been profitable for at least three years. NEO had already stopped their passenger runs, I have been unable to determine exactly when, probably a year or two earlier.

In 1963, Frisco purchased NEO, but the company retained its name until 1967, when it was dissolved, and Miami was served by one railroad, until Frisco itself was taken over by Burlington-Northern in 1980.

Golden anniversary article about NEO railroad, October 24, 1958. Click to enlarge

Golden anniversary article about NEO railroad, October 24, 1958. Click to enlarge

Frisco bus schedule, 1947. Click to enlarge.

New NEO Bus Terminal to open at 116 N Main on February 1, 1943

Both Frisco and NEO offered bus service for a time. NEO started out in 1936, having retired the trolley service in 1934. Frisco first advertised in the local paper in 1942. Both ceased operations between the end of WWII and the late 40’s.

Making Airplanes in Miami

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Edward DeChenne was born in Illinois in 1870. By 1905, he had relocated to southwest Missouri. His trades were blacksmith and machinist, and this made him valuable to the mining industry.

In 1910, he moved to Joplin. There, he became familiar with two Monett businessmen, Ulysses S. Barnsley and Judge Ludwell B. Durnil. Barnsley owned a successful cutlery factory, Durnil was likewise a blacksmith. All three men shared a passion for flying.

DeChenne’s first airplane, 1910. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Dechenne airplane engine. Water cooled, direct drive, made of aluminum. Courtesy of the Monett Times

DeChenne invented and produced an all-aluminum airplane engine. He also designed aluminum framing for a plane. Aluminum, only recently made affordable by advancement in refinement techniques, was lightweight, perfect for aviation.

In June, 1910, DeChenne and his partners built their first plane at the Joplin Machine Works. The machine used the aluminum engine with the propeller directly connected to the shaft. On July 3, it successfully flew, staying about five feet up for nearly six minutes. An August flight, with a man named E.H. Simpson at the controls, ended with a crash from which Simpson walked away.

By 1911, the men had moved their manufacturing facilities to Monett, and had a second generation plane built and ready to test. Since very few men had ever flown, nerves of steel were found acceptable in lieu of experience. They found such a brave man in Edward Wilson, formerly a trapeze artist and hot air balloonist. Wilson would shoot himself out of a cannon from a balloon 5000 feet up and parachute to the ground. On March 8 of that year, Wilson successfully piloted the DeChenne airplane in Joplin. The flight took place at present-day Shifferdecker Park, and ended with a successful crash, i.e. Wilson walked away. A few weeks later, Wilson again took the plane up, handled a stall instinctively, and landed smoothly.

Logan McKee in the second generation DeChenne, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Another test flight was scheduled for July 4 that year in Monett. This time, DeChenne went with Logan McKee as the pilot. McKee was a Monett pharmacist who had been commissioned to take photos of the plane. When he expressed a desire to pilot it, DeChenne and his partners took him up on the offer.

Logan McKee about to take off on July 4, 1911, Monett, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

The flight was successful. That was followed by more demonstrations across the four state area as well as Texas. These flights too frequently resulted in crashes, but no deaths were ever attributed to the airplane.

DeChenne airplane in flight over Miami, 1911

Included in the barnstorming tour was Miami. A three-day festival celebrating the Farmer’s Institute in July of 1911 resulted in several successful flights, often meaning walk-away crashes.

1959 article about the 1911 flying exhibition. Click to enlarge.

McKee was known for making flights of perhaps 50 feet in the air, landing, and manually turning the plane around for returns. The article above explains the unusual flight technique. But while these bunny hops were being performed, Wright and Curtiss planes were achieving altitudes of 2000 feet, maneuvering with ease.

1929 News-Record article giving history of the Robinson-DeChanne plant

The Live Wire announces an airplane factory, March 15, 1912

Later that year, DeChenne moved his factory to Miami. He teamed up with S.D. “Doc” Robinson to create the Robinson-DeChenne Aero-Plane & Motor Co., located on NW 3rd, not far from the river. The next year, in 1912, a DeChenne plane was manufactured in Miami. It flew successfully at a July 4th exhibition in town.

But the planes DeChenne made weren’t competitive with those offered by Curtiss and the Wrights. Tired of losing money, DeChenne opened up a machine shop in town, eventually settling in at 210 S Main, in a building that still stands. Robinson kept going as Robinson Aviation.

Edward DeChenne obituary, February 11, 1935

He died on February 10, 1935. Curiously, his obituary implies that he first entered the airplane building trade as a result of the 1912 aerial demonstration. Whether this was poor journalism or done to avoid lawsuits from former partners is not known.

The Robinson-DeChenne factory history, 1928

As the article above outlines, Doc Robinson went on to manufacture at least 25 more planes at a facility near Commerce. He died on March 8, 1930, and thus ended Miami’s airplane manufacturing. His field north of town continued to function for a time as the area’s only airstrip.

By the time the city airport opened in 1931, airplanes had been manufactured here for nearly 20 years. Add to that the Spartan Aviation School we had during and after WWII, and Miami can boast of a strong history of flying. But it all began in Joplin in 1910, with a man named Edward DeChenne.

Steve Owens

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

This article was originally published at I Remember JFK: A Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot in 2007. I’m recycling it here because it’s appropriate for Miami History. –the webmaster

Growing up in small-town America Miami, Oklahoma in the 60’s was a rich experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was wonderful living in a community where everyone knew who you were, where you could go anywhere you wanted as long as you were home for supper, and where civic pride was tangibly real.

The city’s pride swelled to the breaking point in 1969, the year hometown boy Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy.

Steve Owens Day celebration, December 8, 1969. Click to enlarge

Owens was a kid that, of course, everyone in town knew. I never met the man myself, but his brother (named Bill, I believe) lived on my street, and Steve’s nephew Tony, who was my age, was a familiar face in the neighborhood gang. And my schoolteacher mom was quite proud of the fact that Steve was one of her students.

I’ve always stated that Miami was Steve’s home town, but I stand corrected. He was actually born in Gore, Oklahoma, and moved to Miami at an early age. While he was a young kid, OU was in the process of compiling an incredible 47 game winning streak. Any football-inclined youngster in Oklahoma dreamed of playing for the Sooners, and Steve was no exception.

In high school, Steve shined for the Wardogs. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush and gained over 4,000 yards in his four years. He caught recruiters’ attention, and happily signed for his favorite school.

But the coaches weren’t sure what to do with him. Owens was a bit of a paradox. He was a track star who was quite speedy, but he looked slow on the field. The Sooners considered making him a tight end. But in the end, they played him at running back his freshman season.

He didn’t play much, and didn’t dazzle when he did. But the next year, he ran for 813 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also scored a TD in OU’s Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Steve Owens Day article, December 9, 1969. Click to Enlarge

In his junior year, he gained 1,536 yards and started getting attention from the press. That year, O.J. Simpson blew away everyone else for the Heisman, but he called Owens and predicted he would win it the next year.

Owens shined in 1969. His team had problems, though, and lost four games. But Steve began putting together a string of 100-yard games the previous year that continued into his senior season. Once, during a shellacking of Colorado, Owens wanted to let up on the hapless Buffaloes. He was reported to have said “Let’s just fall on the ball and forget this 100-yard stuff. It’s not that important.” Offensive guard Bill Effstrom’s response to him was “It might not be important to you, but it’s sure important to us.”

Owens ran hard and picked up 112 yards. He ended up with 17 straight 100 yard games, a record that still stands.

When Owens won the Heisman that year, a small town became ecstatic. Unfortunately, I had moved away by then, so I missed out on the fun. But I was pleased to drive down Steve Owens Boulevard during a visit there a few years ago.

Nowadays, Owens is CEO at a big insurance agency in Oklahoma City. Life turned out well for the gentleman, I’m happy to say. So here’s to a small town boy who made good, and gave perennial bragging rights to everyone from Miami, Oklahoma.

Steve Owens in a Detroit Lions uniform, 1970