The Origins of Heavener
Heavener originated in 1877 with the arrival of the town’s founder, Joseph H. Heavener. As one of the earliest white settlers, Heavener, along with Sam Wilson obtained permits from the Choctaw Nation to work the land.
The town began to take shape in 1880 when Zachary Taylor Ward and his wife, Tabitha Hickman Ward moved their store from Skullyville to Heavener. Tabitha, being a Choctaw, enabled the family to obtain land without having to get permits. Much of the old town of Heavener was built up around Ward’s store. The town became known as Heavener after Zachary died in 1883. Shortly afterwards, Tabitha married Joseph H. Heavener and took his last name. The town at this time was known as Choctaw City.
Good land and good lumber drew people in to the town. A cotton gin and gristmill were established in 1885, followed by the first community church in 1886. By 1889, the town was thriving. That year, the Commercial Hotel was constructed.
With the arrival of the KCS in 1896, the town became firmly established. Just before the post office was established that same year, residents got together the year before and decided to officially name the town “Heavener”. The post office was established in a box car, as it was the only location available at the time. This was on May 12, 1896, with Simon W. Woods serving as the post master. Similarly, before the depot was established, another box car served as the main depot. Heavener incorporated as a city in 1898, with E. W. Moore acting as the first mayor and Harvey Wise as the first peace officer.
In 1901, the Arkansas Western Railroad ran tracks from Heavener to Arkansas. This further established Heavener as a railroad town. Also because of this, lumber became one of the dominant industries in the region. A large roundhouse was established in 1910 by the KCS, which established Heavener as a division point. With this, the town continued to grow and flourish. By 1911, there were two banks and two newspapers serving the surrounding area.
As the timber industry continued to grow, larger establishments secured land in the region. The Burnett Lumber Company established a large sawmill in 1935, which ran until fire destroyed it in 1981. Although lumber no longer plays such an important role in Heavener’s economy, it was vital to the growth of the town.
Several other industries were established through the years. One of the largest was the Heavener Charcoal Company, established in 1960.
Perhaps the most well known attraction in Heavener is the Heavener Runestone. Stories claim that Norse explorers traveled throughout the region and left markers behind. Although no scientific evidence exists to prove or disprove the stories, it is entirely possible that the ancient Vikings did explore the region.
Today, Heavener relies mainly on agricultural endeavors to support the local economy. One of the largest businesses today is OK Foods, established in 1986. The business operates a poultry hatchery, a chicken processing plant, and a feed mill.
Looking back on the history of Heavener, it is a fascinating town with deep roots, beginning with the Caddo Indian that once inhabited the region to the Norse explorers, then moving forward into the railroad and timber age, and on through the years. These photos help provide a glimpse back in time to tell the story of Heavener, Oklahoma.
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