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 Ottawa County Fair began in Quapaw in 1914. The first was a one-day affair, held around the end of September. 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 NE 1st, as seen in 2012

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 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 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

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

Miami’s Bridges

Everything Else

Ferry located at the “south part of town,” 1880’s

In the beginning, there was the ferry, and the ferry was located south of town, at the “southern edge” of Miami. The ferry preceded the town itself.

“Road workers” at fording spot near NW 3rd, circa 1900

According to resident Mary Booth, born in 1898, there was also a place to ford the river under favorable conditions in the vicinity of NW 3rd. The photo above depicts this location.

Ten years after the town was incorporated (1901), a toll bridge was completed, near the present-day bridge by Riverview Park. This ended the ferry’s run. Note two bridges visible in the photo below.

1913, toll bridge and Frisco bridge in background

The Frisco railroad to Afton was also completed that year, so Miami quickly had two bridges where it had none.

Frisco bridge across the Neosho, early 20th century

This original Frisco bridge was replaced in 1943 with a span which had no trusses. It continues to exist today, although it has had improvements over the years.

In 1916, the toll bridge was purchased by Ottawa county for $10,000, and you could now cross the Neosho south of town for free.

According to The History of Ottawa County, by Velma Nieberding, the bridge was disassembled around 1920-1921 and moved to Stepp’s Ford, west of Commerce. It was demolished there in 2016.

Concrete bridge at Riverview Park, circa 1960

The disassembly of that bridge is the logical time period for the building of the concrete bridge which was there through late 1967. That bridge had arches which were prone to catching driftwood and which had to be frequently cleaned. It was replaced with a higher span with less obstruction in 1967.

In 1934, construction began on a brand new bridge at SW 3rd. On September 22, 1935, it was opened to traffic. That bridge lasted until it was replaced in 1997.

The Route 66 bridge, circa 1940

C.M. Bartlett dedicating the new Highway 66 bridge, 1937

1937 article about the new Route 66 bridge, and also a history of previous bridges. Click to enlarge

News-Record article and photo describing new Riverview Park bridge, November 1967. Four bridges are temporarily visible.

The concrete bridge depicted above was demolished shortly after the new one opened.

There’s one other bridge spanning the Neosho in Miami.

Building the M,O, and G bridge, 1912

The M O and G bridge, 2011

South of Riverview Park, around the river bend, stands the old M,O and G bridge. Originally built in 1912, it was abandoned some time in the 60’s. At presstime, it still stands.

There is now a concrete bridge at west Steve Owens Boulevard spanning the river. Thus, Miami now has two modern concrete bridges, one old railroad bridge in good repair, and one railroad bridge which has been abandoned.

Steve Gaines, Born in Miami

Everything Else

As of this publishing date, Wikipedia continues to insist that Steve Gaines was born in Seneca, Missouri. The clipping below from the Miami News-Record of September 15, 1949, should remove all doubt. This is the Miami Baptist Hospital admittance announcements. And Steve was born on September 14, 1949, of course. And note that his parents were already living on Circle Drive.

If anyone has the ability to edit the erroneous Wikipedia article, this clipping should provide conclusive proof. It can also be accessed at newspapers.com.

Miami’s Theaters

Miami Businesses

Miami has always had movie theaters, since it was 23 years old. The Dreamland opened at 12 South Main, where Security Bank now sits, in 1914. By 1919, it had been renamed the Grand.

In 1917, the Grand received some competition: the Glory B, which opened directly across the street (at the site of the present-day Jeannie’s). Both of these theaters had stages large enough to accommodate vaudeville acts and live bands.

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, January 6, 1928

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, September 7, 1927

Glory B ad, January 5, 1940

Ottawa and Coleman ads, January 4, 1946

Both theaters eventually came to be owned by Sarah Cardin Staton. A Staton owning a South Main business was a common situation in the twenties. The Grand lasted until 1928. It apparently never converted to sound, and the rival across the street announced it that year. In fact, the last Grand ad was placed in the News-Record the weekend before the Glory B debuted sound.

Vaudeville and Talkies at the Glory B, November 2, 1928

On April 18, 1929, the Coleman theater opened. The Coleman also had a vaudeville stage, and Miamians once again had their choice of two theaters to attend.

Coleman Theater writeup, January 20, 1929, the article mentions three obscure playhouses that Miami had in the past. Click to enlarge.

The article above is valuable because it mentions three obscure playhouses from Miami’s past: the Odeon, the Pastime, and the Airdome. The locations of all three have been lost to history.

January 20, 1933

The Glory B and the Coleman both survived the Great Depression, providing entertainment which was just barely affordable enough, combined with a nice air-conditioned place to escape dust bowl summer heat.

In 1945, Miami again had three theaters, when the Ottawa opened at the same location formerly occupied by the Grand.

Ottawa Theater’s first ad, April 4, 1945

The Ottawa from the beginning advertised itself as a second-run theater, and it did well. But in 1949, the theater scene in town would be shook up by the appearance of the drive-in theater. Click the link to read the history of Miami’s drive-ins.

Sometime after 1950 (1951 and 1952 are missing from my newspaper archives), the Glory B closed its doors. By 1953, the Miami Theater had opened there, complete with a gorgeous art deco marquee.

Artist’s depiction of the Miami Theater.

Miami’s theaters peaked in 1954. There were two drive-ins, the Sooner south of town and the Tri-State to the north, and three walk-ins, the Coleman, the Ottawa, and the Miami. The Sooner would close that year after a flood, promising to reopen but never doing so. The Ottawa would close the next year. The Miami would close in 1958. It would reopen for a few weeks in 1961.

Five Miami theater ads, June 11, 1954

Obviously, television was the culprit. As more and more Miami residences obtained the one-eyed monsters, theaters felt the pinch. By the time I came along in the 60’s, it was the Coleman and the former Tri-State, renamed the Sooner early in the decade.

The Tri-State’s site is covered by a Wal-Mart. But the Coleman lives on, in what is one of the greatest historical renovations ever done. The theater where I watched Mary Poppins, The Monkey’s Uncle, and Bonnie and Clyde (thanks, brother Bill, for exposing me to some great edgy entertainment, and making me the coolest kid in the third grade) is much more beautiful now than it was then. The decrepit balcony had already been closed off by the time I was attending there.

Mention should be made of the Thunderbird Twin Theater, which was built on SE 3rd (it was Steve Owens Boulevard by then) circa 1971 by developer John Haralson. The theater remained in operation until some time in the 80’s.

And of course, Miami has a modern multi-screen cineplex. So movie theaters have run continuously here since 1914. That’s impressive, because many communities Miami’s size have stopped supporting them.