The Historic Downtown Poteau Walking Tour is a self-guided tour of the downtown district. You will begin at the LeFlore County Courthouse. From there, you will cross Broadway and head towards City Hall before entering downtown proper. Take a break at the LeFlore County Museum and have lunch at Warehouse Willy’s in the Patrick building. From downtown proper, head south along the old highway to see the old jail and finish out at the Patrick Lynch Public Library.
100 South Broadway
The LeFlore County Courthouse
Ground was broken for the new courthouse on July 15, 1926. Built on the site of the old municipal park, and paid for without the use of bonds, the courthouse was expected to cost around $130,000. By the time it was completed, the final cost ran at approximately $150,000. Newspapers reported that “the building is to be ready for occupancy by January 1, 1927”, just in time for the beginning of a new year.
On that date, the city put on a huge celebration. During the grand opening ceremonies, the “Human Fly” snuck into Poteau. These performers were known for scaling public buildings in front of large crowds.
Much to the amazement of the crowd gathered to witness the ceremonies, the Human Fly climbed up the side and to the top of the newly erected courthouse. After reaching the top, he pulled out a chair and placed it on the edge of the roof. He then climbed up on it, and, with the skill and dexterity of a cat, tilted the chair back on one leg and proceeded to calmly balance himself on the chair for several minutes. Once the spectacle ended, he disappeared into the newly constructed courthouse, never to be seen again.
On June 14, 1928, Sheriff Self moved all of his prisoners from the old jail the new jail on top of the courthouse. The process of moving the prisoners was done in complete secrecy; the jailers and other law enforcement officers didn’t know what day had been decided by the sheriff. Once the day arrived, the prisoners were moved just a few at a time throughout the day. By the time night began to creep in, all of the prisoners were safely behind bars. For its time, this jail was one of the most secure in the state.
What to look for: Can you spot the original building? Once inside, the original staircase and terazzo floors remain, as does many of the original architectural details.
Broadway to Peters Street*
Also known as: Frisco Right of Way
From the courthouse, use the pedestrian crossing at Dewey and Broadway. Turn left at Peters Street to head towards City Hall.
From the late 1800s through the 1970s, the old Frisco Railroad Right of Way ran from the edge of the courthouse lawn to the outer edge of Peter’s Street. At one time, there were eight main lines that ran through this section. Following the closing of the Frisco service through Poteau, the land was sold and new businesses began cropping up, such as the modern-day KP’s convenience store and Ollie’s Lumber.
What to look for: Remnants of the old Frisco Line can still be seen. A portion of the old line exists between KP’s Convenience store and the parking lot of Bridgman’s Used Furniture. Another more complete section can be found behind the feed dump at Ollies, just across from City Hall.
Also known as: The old Frisco Depot
City Hall is located in what was once the old Frisco Depot. This building was the second depot in Poteau to exist. The first one was a small one room “shack”. Although small, it served Poteau well from the mid-1890s through 1915. After a number of additions, it was determined that a nicer, new depot should be constructed.
The new depot consisted of several areas. The “north” end was primarily for freight, and also held the “black” entrance. The southern end was set for passenger service. Located in the center, where the building juts out, was the telegraph office and station masters office. Originally, a long wooden platform ran the length of the front of the building. A similar, longer platform ran the length of the back of the building.
What to look for: Through the years, the building has been remodeled extensively, although many of the original elements remain. Inside, you can still find the old ticket window and can get an idea of the size of the waiting room inside of the council room. A new roof was added to stop water from leaking inside, but most of the original elements still remain under that roof.
Also known as the McKenna Building
From City Hall, return to Dewey. The tour completes a circuit starting from the “north” side of the street heading “east”, then crosses over on Witte to continue “south”.
Captain Edmund McKenna, a Civil War veteran, began construction on this two-story rock building on May 27, 1897. The rock used for the construction of this building was quarried locally and hauled to the site by ox-driven carts.
After completion in 1899, the building featured galvanized iron fronts, plenty of windows, and an ornate architectural style that was prevalent during the period. A large 8-foot wide porch ran the length along the front of the building and provided a cool, shady place for visitors to rest. Facing the St. Louis and San Francisco tracks, the first floor housed three stores. The “Racket Store” was located in the middle unit. Racket Stores were often called “Five and Dime” stores. These stores offered products at a low price and generally offered a good variety of dry goods. To the right of the Racket Store was a millinery store. On the north end of the building, Noble and Bird’s drug store was one of the most frequented stores in the area.
On February 2, 1900, the decision was made to move the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Indian Territory from Cameron to Poteau. This was done by Tom T. Varner, a prominent lawyer from Cameron. He packed the entire court on to a horse-drawn wagon and moved it into the second floor of the McKenna Building. Until Statehood in 1907, this courthouse saw many notorious bandits, outlaws, and law-breakers from all over what would become Eastern Oklahoma.
Around the same time, the Poteau Opera House came into existence. This was located on the lower floor of the building.
Today, the building doesn’t look anything like the photo. Around 1914, with the massive growth along Dewey, the front of the building was bricked over and the “southern” side opened to become the new main front.
What to look for: As you study this building, take note of the transition from rock to brick. The brick area is where the original front of the building was, but was covered up between 1914 and 1916. Some of the early elements still remain, however, such as the iron support beams that run the length of the building.
Also known as: Oklahoma Immigration Building
In October 1907, the Oklahoma Immigration Company was founded at Scullin, Oklahoma with half a million dollars capital stock. The purpose of this company was to bring in immigrants into the newly formed state of Oklahoma and secure good land for them to relocate.
In the early 1900s, W.W. Lowery served as president of the Oklahoma Immigration Company and was instrumental in fostering new growth in southeast Oklahoma. W. W. Lowrey and S. L. Lowrey were both responsible for bringing in many new settlers into the area. One of their main tasks throughout the area was to purchase land where the railroads intersected in order to resell them to new immigrants to the state.
During the 1910s, people settling in the area was at an all-time high and Poteau was rapidly becoming the largest city in southeastern Oklahoma. The need for a much larger modern facility was quickly becoming apparent. In 1914, a new building for the Oklahoma Immigration Company was constructed on the corner of Dewey and Witte. This building served as the main offices for the company in Southeast Oklahoma and was one of the most modern facilities in this part of the country. Much of the development in and around Poteau centered on this building, as the Oklahoma Immigration Company focused on development and area promotion.
Later, this building housed the Lyons Drug Store, along with numerous other popular businesses in Poteau. For many years, the Lyons Drug Store was the largest of its kind in the area, and people would travel quite a distance to visit this store.
Also known as: Hotel Lowrey
The Hotel Lowrey was built in 1922 by Wiley W. Lowrey for use as an office building for the Oklahoma Immigration Company. Built on prime real estate property between the Frisco railroad and the KCS railroad, the office building was advertised as being “fireproof” because of its concrete and steel construction. This was the first building of its type in Poteau. During an age where a fire was a common threat, this was a significant advancement for businesses looking to relocate in Poteau. The building measures at 16,195 square feet and had 31 rooms on three floors. The building also included a small basement. One of the most fascinating things was that the hotel was built with a cement roof to accommodate two additional floors, which were never constructed.
In 1932, the building was renovated to serve as a full-service hotel and was one of the finest in the area. Travelers taking long railroad trips and salesmen who moved from town-to-town frequently stayed at the Hotel Lowrey because of its numerous features.
The hotel featured air-cooled rooms, public showers and restrooms, a barbershop, and several retail shops. The first floor contained the lobby, a coffee shop and dining room, and a kitchen. The remaining two floors contained the individual guest rooms, each with a private bath. The individual rooms on the second and third floors all had adjoining baths. The hotel was the first in the area to have bathrooms indoors and was touted as having the most modern heating system and bathrooms. The Lowrey’s bought the stock of a failing tile manufacturer and then used the tile throughout the building. As a result, each bathroom is unique because of the design elements and use of various colored tile. They reflect the work of local artisans and stand as a testament to the skills and artistry of the period.
After entering the hotel, guests were greeted with an interior style decorated in an art deco/Mediterranean motif. A second story mezzanine overlooked the main lobby, the coffee shop and dining room. This mezzanine was used for private dining, private parties, and a place where the local school choirs would serenade the diners. The second floor has public showers for the train travelers who wished to clean up while waiting for a train connection. Each room was furnished in turn of the century furniture and adornments, and, as a testament of the opulence of this hotel, there were electric lights located in each room.
Built: 1920 (Marker located at 306 Dewey)
Event: Land Run
Shortly after the Great Depression, in 1931, W. W. Lowrey began development of Poteau’s Lakeview Addition. When it came to real estate and marketing, Lowrey could be considered a genius. After months of promoting both Poteau and the surrounding area, he kick-started growth in the new Lakeview Addition in an unusual way.
Similar to the land rush that opened Oklahoma, participants lined up at the corner of Dewey Avenue and Witte. There, they waited for the signal that the land run had begun. People from as far away as Ohio and Louisiana showed up for the festive event. Local bands were hired, and singing groups from all around were invited to come and entertain the participants. At last, the signal went off and the land run began. A large crowd rushed into the new addition to claim their land. Corner lots were sold for $300 and others went for $250. Prior to the event, W. W. Lowrey had built four cobblestone houses in the addition in order to highlight the size of the lots. By the end of the day, most of the lots had been claimed. Many of the houses erected on these lots still stand today.
The building at 301 Dewey provides a glimpse back in time. As participants lined up for the land run, spectators lined the rooftops and the sidewalks to watch the spectacle. During this time, all of the buildings surrounding 301 Dewey were constructed exactly the same. One can almost imagine the excitement as thousands of people awaited the beginning of the land run.
Also known as: The Patrick Building
Constructed in 1909 by R.E. Patrick, this building is one of the most striking buildings in Poteau. R.E. Patrick was a prominent businessman and rancher in the early days of Poteau. He made a small fortune through selling cattle all over the country, and invested this money into the Poteau Area.
During the time that this building was constructed, Poteau was at the height of development. New buildings sprang up almost weekly, and because of the town’s location between the Frisco Railroad and the Kansas City Southern Railroad, it was a major stopping point for travelers, businessmen, and salesmen moving throughout the area. The Patrick Building played an important part in the history of Poteau because of the wide variety of businesses that were located here.
On the bottom floor, the J.W. Hughes Cash Grocery Store was located on the left side of the building. This was the largest store of its type in the area. On the right side, Floyd Strickland & Co. had another general mercantile store. The sign above the entrance read, “The One Price Store, Dry Goods, Clothing & Shoes”
The second floor housed several important businesses as well. W.B. Bradley, located in Room 2, was a prominent Land seller in the area. The Poteau Manufacturing Company was located in Room 8. This company manufactured stool chairs, porch swings, folding chairs, and other similar items for resale in other stores. Located in room 9 and 10 was the Choctaw Engineering Company, owned by S.D. Callaway.
Also known as:Noble-Bird Building
George B. Noble got his start in the drug industry in 1888 in Denison, Texas. While living in Cameron in 1891, he was appointed deputy United States Marshal and retained that position after moving to Poteau a few years later. After arriving in Poteau, Noble teamed up with Dr. Felix W. Bird to build one of the largest drugstores in this part of the country. In 1907, Noble was elected the first sheriff of LeFlore County, which he served until he retired from office in 1913.
Dr. Bird has an equally fascinating background as well. He is credited with the formation of the first political organization, of any size, ever formed in what is now LeFlore County, Oklahoma, despite the fact that in Indian Territory white men did not have a vote. Cleveland and Hendricks were the nominees of the National Democratic Party at that time. Dr. Bird formed a club of four hundred members who worked for their election. Prior to moving to Poteau, as a young man Bird served in the Spanish-American War as Corporal, first Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry, Company D, at Camp George H.Thomas, Atlanta, Georgia, and was discharged in 1898.
The Noble-Bird Drugstore continued operation until 1910. That year, the store was sold to the Kidd Brothers. Burton Kidd was both a druggist and Oklahoma legislator. Affectionately known as “The Unkissed Kid”, he served in the Twelfth Legislature of the House of Representatives. The Kidd family would later come to have a profound effect on Poteau. In 1932, Mr. Noble and Dr. Bird once again purchased their old building and reopened the Noble-Bird Drug Store. It remained in operation until 1946.
In the late 1920s, this building also housed Poteau’s telephone exchange which provided telephone service, both local and long-distance, to the surrounding areas.
Also known as: Bank of Poteau Building
Shortly before noon on January 25, 1934, Clyde and his gang drove a stolen blue Plymouth down Dewey and parked just outside of Central National Bank. Clyde Barrow and Raymond Hamilton got out and calmly walked through the front door of the bank while Joe Palmer remained in the car with the engine running, waiting for their return.
After entering the bank, Clyde and Raymond raised shotguns and pointed them at C. P. Little, a customer, and cashiers May Vasser and W. A. Campbell. Little and Campbell were immediately ordered to lie on the floor while Vasser was allowed to sit in a chair. After quickly subduing the people, Clyde then moved behind the counter and looted the cash drawers. He then forced the employees to open the safe. He then took all of the cash that was inside. During this time, Pat Fulson entered the bank and was oblivious as to what was going on at first. Once he saw Raymond’s shotgun he quickly understood. He soon joined C. P. Little on the floor.
Outside, J. M. Butler became suspicious after seeing the mud-covered Blue Plymouth sedan parked along the side of the bank. The rear window of the car was knocked out. Butler thought that it was possible that a machine gun was probably concealed in the rear. This suspicion prompted Butler to grab a gun and enter the bank. During this time, Clyde was busy emptying the vault, which left Raymond alone to guard the hostages. J. M. Butler entered the bank but wasn’t prepared for what greeted him as he walked through the door. Raymond was waiting, and after promptly relieving Butler of his gun forced him to join the others on the floor.
The gang finished in less than fifteen minutes. Clyde and Raymond exited the front of the bank with $1,500 and ran down McKenna Street to the waiting car. Anticipating a lengthy chase and possible gunfight, they stopped briefly to put the front windshield down so they could shoot their guns if they needed to. Joe Palmer was already on the move when Clyde and Raymond jumped in the car. Having been notified of the robbery, E. G. Goodnight, president of the bank at the time, accompanied officers as they chased the bandits. The chase lasted around ten minutes before the officers gave up the chase. It soon became obvious that Clyde had lost them somewhere in the hills near Wister. Several days after the robbery, Zadoc Harrison discovered the blue Plymouth one mile north of Page, about 300-400 yards from the road. In typical Bonnie and Clyde fashion, Bonnie was probably stationed outside of the town with the getaway car.
The “Mesker” Building
The facade on this building is known as a Mesker Facade and is still an excellent example of this type of architecture.
The Mesker Brothers Iron Works and George L. Mesker & Co. were competing manufacturers and designers of ornamental sheet-metal facades and cast iron storefront components from the 1880s through the mid-twentieth century. The Mesker Brothers Iron Works was based in St. Louis, Missouri, and was operated by brothers Bernard and Frank Mesker. The George L. Mesker Company was operated by a third brother, George L. Mesker, and was based in Evansville, Indiana. The Mesker brothers were the sons of John Mesker who operated a stove business in Evansville and later galvanized iron for buildings. The three brothers learned their iron-working skills from their father.
The companies’ products are often referred to as “Meskers.” The companies also produced tin ceilings, iron railings, stairs, roof cresting, ventilation grates, iron awnings, skylights, and freight elevators, some of which can still be seen above the drop ceilings in many of the old buildings downtown.
The Meskers marketed their products through catalogs displaying their designs. The catalogs were so successful they expanded print runs from 50,000 to 500,000 one year later. According to a 1915 catalog, there were Mesker storefronts in every state, including 4,130 in Indiana, 2,915 in Illinois, 2,646 in Kentucky, and even 17 in the territory of Alaska. Out of 128 storefronts in Oklahoma, only 9 remain.
Also known as: Bridgman’s Furniture
Robert S. Bridgman moved to Poteau from Hackett, Arkansas in the fall of 1896. He was 38 years old. Shortly after arriving, he purchased a moderate one and a half story building off Railroad Avenue, known as Broadway today. That same year, he also gained ownership of the Poteau Journal. Bridgman’s Furniture was first established along this the dirt road that ran along the Frisco Railroad tracks 1896. This store was originally located on the first floor, and he used the second 1/2 floor as his printing press. This first building measured 24 feet wide by 32 feet deep and provided almost 800 square feet of sales space. For the first time in Poteau’s history, residents of the town now had one of the finest furniture stores to be found in eastern Indian Territory.
According to local sources, 1927, Bridgman’s Furniture Store moved from its old location to 104 Dewey Avenue, where the store remains today. However, the store could have been here as early as 1902. 1902 is the first year that the Bridgman Building is listed on old maps, and shows the label as “Hardware, Furniture, and Undertaker”. During the early 1900s, it was common for furniture stores to also double as the local undertaker. Since the furniture was typically made in-house from local wood and supplies, it only made sense for caskets and such to be made in the same location. Because of this, typically, the local undertaker would be housed in the same location. By 1909, only the furniture store remained.
For over one hundred years, the Bridgman family has remained a solid pillar of Poteau’s success.
Also known as: Old Jail
Constructed in 1913, this building served as the LeFlore County jail until June 14, 1928, when it was moved to the top floor of the newly constructed LeFlore County Courthouse. This move, overseen by Sheriff Self was complete secrecy; the jailers and other law enforcement officers didn’t know what day had been decided by the sheriff. Once the day arrived, the prisoners were moved just a few at a time throughout the day. By the time night began to creep in, all of the prisoners were safely behind bars.
Before the move, this building saw a lot of activity. During the era of Prohibition, many residents and drifters found themselves sobering up here. The old jail was also home to many bootleggers and outlaws of the time.
In the early years of the 1920s, a massive smallpox epidemic broke out in Poteau. This epidemic was one of the worse in the country. It originated from a vagrant prisoner in the jail and spread throughout Poteau. The epidemic was so bad that the town was quarantined and essentially shut off from the outside world.
During the 1950s, this building also served as the offices for the Plastek Company. The Plastek Company manufactured state-of-the-art plastic components and products and was considered one of the most advanced in the country.