The Obelisk Tour

In central Oklahoma, the weather between Christmas and New Year’s was sunny and warm and I was ready for a road trip, but I didn’t have time to get too far afield. Where could I go within an hour or so’s drive of home? I like themed travel — burning gas “for a reason” makes it seem more like a treasure hunt, so I set off with my cameras and a Clif bar to photograph all the Ozark Trail obelisks remaining in Oklahoma.

Not to be confused with a modern-day hiking trail in southern Missouri, this Ozark Trail was a network of roads predating the federal highway system, a predecessor to Route 66. The Ozark Trail Association was organized in 1913 to promote road improvement from Missouri to Arizona. It was the brainchild of eccentric entrepreneur “Coin” Harvey, founder of Monte Ne, the northwest Arkansas resort now immersed under Beaver Lake.

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Twenty-one foot obelisks marked some of the Ozark Trail intersections but, not surprisingly, very few remain. Two are in Oklahoma — in Stroud and Langston — and a replica in Stratford is worth inclusion in the tour. I set out to visit and photograph all three of them and other interesting spots in between.

From my home in Norman, a short jaunt down I-35 took me to Purcell, where I left the interstate for secondary highways and county roads. I drove through downtown and across the Canadian River bridge into Lexington, continuing on Highway 39 east to Highway 102, then south to the community of Wanette. There’s little left of Wanette’s downtown but a cafe. It’s worth a stop for the ambience and a good burger. (insert photo).

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Cookie’s Cafe in Wanette

The road continues south out of Wanette and turns into N3350/Drummond Road. It takes you to a historic steel truss bridge over the Canadian River. This was built circa 1903 as a Santa Fe railroad bridge and later converted for automobile use. There are pull-outs on both ends of the bridge for one or two cars and you can easily scramble down underneath the bridge and walk out on the river bed.

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Wanette-Byars Bridge

More information on the bridge:
https://bridgehunter.com/ok/pottawatomie/700000000000/
http://okbridges.wkinsler.com/pottawatomie_county/canadianbridge2.html
http://nr_shpo.okstate.edu/nhrpdfs/10000070.pdf

Continue south of the river to Highway 59 into the community of Byars. Like Wanette, there is little here but empty buildings, but one historic structure houses an operating general store. Old motorcycles sit atop the awning over the front entrance so you can’t miss it. Again, it’s worth a stop for a cold drink.

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General Store in Byars

Travel south out of Byars on a mixture of paved and dirt roads to Highway 19, which takes you east into Stratford, known for its peaches. There, if you are hungry and it’s not peach season, get a burger at McGee’s in Stratford’s downtown, just south of the highway. Across the street south from the burger joint sits a small downtown park with, strangely, an obelisk. It certainly stands out against the early statehood architecture. According to the inscription on its base, it is a replica of an Ozark Trails marker placed on a north-south route from Tulsa to Dallas (not on any of the maps I’ve seen so far). The original, which also stood in downtown Stratford but had been pushed over and buried, was exhumed and restored and now stands on a private ranch nearby.

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Obelisk in downtown Stratford
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Bank building in downtown Stratford

Stratford sits at the intersection of Highways 177 and 19. Take 177 north to Asher. If you have time, a side trip to Sacred Heart Abbey, located about 7 miles east of Asher, is worth the effort. See more at https://susandragoo.com/2016/06/01/sacred-indeed/

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Cemetery at Sacred Heart Abbey

Back in Asher, just east of the 177 and Highway 39 intersection, turn north on Division Street, which is Old Highway 18. This concrete, curbed highway was commissioned in 1924 and an original remnant runs from Asher to Tecumseh. The 1930 steel truss bridge over Salt Creek is picturesque and makes a good photo stop. While I was there taking pictures, a friendly man in a pick-up stopped and asked, “Are you inspecting our bridge?” I explained I was just out taking pictures for fun. Sadly, these visually appealing old bridges are constantly being replaced by nondescript concrete versions. No doubt the new bridges are safer but the loss of historic value and visual appeal is unfortunate — and also one of the realities of the passage of time.

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Salt Creek Bridge on Old Highway 18

More information on the bridge:
https://bridgehunter.com/ok/pottawatomie/salt-creek/
http://okbridges.wkinsler.com/pottawatomie_county/saltcreek8.html

Just north of the community of Romulus (the Oklahoma highway map also shows a corresponding community of Remus east of here) and before it runs back into 177, turn on Fairview Road. This curving paved road goes east to Highway 9A. There, turn right and follow 9A into Maud. Maud also has a decaying downtown but after awhile taking photos of old buildings falling in on themselves just gets depressing, so I didn’t stop. Continue through Maud east to Highway 59 and then north on 377  to Seminole. As you enter town, on the east side of 377 is historic downtown Seminole. This is not depressing. It’s a historic downtown extensively lined with brick streets and appears to be flourishing. The train depot houses a Mexican restaurant and the Union Bus Depot a hamburger joint — historic buildings repurposed and apparently well used. I had my Clif bar and other places to go, so I continued north.

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Union Bus Station in Seminole

From Seminole, it’s a highway trip on 377/99 to just south of Stroud. Turn off the highway at County Road 900 and drive west to 3540, then north to 890. Here is an original Ozark Trails marker on an original stretch of dirt roadbed of Route 66.

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Ozark Trail marker near Stroud

According to a National Park Service web site on Historic Route 66, “The U.S. Highway 66 corridor created in November 1926 often took advantage of the pioneering work in road construction carried out in the early 20th century by private and local ‘good roads’ associations from Missouri to Arizona. As part of the organization’s regional effort to modernize Oklahoma’s roads, a local subdivision of the Ozark Trails Association constructed this segment between 1915 and 1917. Today, this section remains in its original condition as a so-called ‘improved’ dirt road–a dirt road that was occasionally graveled and graded. It is approximately 18 feet wide, but with variations, as there is no precise edging to the pavement. An old and rare Ozark Trails Monument–a 21-foot stone obelisk that marked the intersection of Ozark Trails roads–sits at the eastern end of the segment. On the western end was the Dosie Creek Bridge, a steel truss, wood-decked structure constructed in 1917, then demolished and replaced in 2004. In the middle of this segment are two original stone Box Drains probably built in 1917.”

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/oklahoma_road_segments.html

Other sources say the marker was originally installed in 1920 in downtown Stroud and later moved to this stretch of Route 66.

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Ozark Trails marker near Stroud

After I photographed the obelisk I drove west a short distance and quickly identified the box drains by orange markers placed on both ends. I parked on the side of the road and scrambled down to explore. The drain is deep enough to walk through and I took a moment to do so, thankful that we hadn’t had any rain recently and the surface was dry. By the cracks in the rock, it appears this historic structure may have to be fortified or replaced soon, hopefully the former.

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Box drain on original roadbed of Route 66 near Stroud

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Click here for National Register of Historic Places documentation for this stretch of the Ozark Trail/Route 66: NRHP Documentation

From Stroud take Highway 99 north to County Road 850 then west to the community of Kendrick. Continue on county roads north and west to Highway 18 and drive north through Agra to Highway 33. Turn west there and within just a couple of miles turn north on Highway 108, which will take you into Ripley. As you travel north on Highway 108 you’ll cross the Cimarron River. On the north side of the river, beneath the bridge, you’ll see a road running east and west along the river bank. This is Ghost Hollow Road, another interesting side trip. Read more about it here:

https://billdragoo.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/oklahoma_ghost-hollow_roadrunner_oct12.pdf

Continue north to E. 56th Street and turn east. This looks like a private drive but it’s a public road, winding around to a north-south road, 3430. Turn north there and as you travel you will see to the northwest a hilltop with a dark mound of trees at the top. It’s hard to tell but there is a rock outcropping here known as Irving’s Castle. It’s on private property but the owners keep a road mowed through the pasture to this historic site.

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Irving’s Castle
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Irving’s Castle

Drive to the top and you’ll find the formation Washington Irving made famous during his 1832 “Tour on the Prairie” through what would become Oklahoma, likening it to “the ruins of some Moorish castle, crowning a height in the midst of a lonely Spanish landscape.” Cedars have grown up around it in the interim, making the rock less prominent from a distance, but it is remarkable in this landscape nonetheless. After my visit I read that there is a bronze plaque on the formation but I didn’t see it. Either I just missed it while I was there or it has been removed.

I highly recommend reading Irving’s entertaining account of his adventure, available at public libraries or free on Kindle:
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=A+Tour+On+the+Prairies

More on Irving’s Castle: http://nr_shpo.okstate.edu/nhrpdfs/78002257.pdf

Return to Ripley and continue south back to Highway 33, then turn west toward Langston. On the way you’ll pass Coyle and Saint Francis of the Woods, a retreat center I have visited briefly but haven’t explored.
http://www.stfrancisofthewoods.org

Just past Coyle, the Langston exit pops up on the left. Here there are two streets to choose from, Sammy Davis Jr. (did he ever visit here and if so, when?) and Logan/Indian Meridian. Take Logan south to Washington, where the obelisk is located in the middle of the intersection. It also marks the Indian Meridian (a separate marker also stands at the intersection), which divided Oklahoma and Indian territories before statehood and remains the reference point for all land surveys in Oklahoma.

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Obelisk in Langston
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Indian Meridian monument in Langston

As far as I know, these are the only Ozark Trail markers in Oklahoma. I read that in Miami a monument to the Ozark Trail was being considered but don’t have any more information. The sun was setting as I headed west on Highway 33 after bagging this third marker. It was a short trip to Guthrie, where I jumped back on I-35 for the drive back to Norman. It was a perfect way to spend a winter day.

Contact me at susan.dragoo@gmail.com for GPS traacks.

Other Sources:
http://drivetheost.com/thespreadoftheoz.html
http://www.drivetheost.com/pyramidsonthetra.html
http://www.405magazine.com/April-2015/The-Mysterious-Monument-of-Lincoln-County-Oklahoma/

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