CELEBRATING 50 YEARS!
THE HISTORY OF THE ROGERS COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The First 25 Years
In 1971, a group of history minded folks met to discussed the rich history of Rogers County, Oklahoma. On February 25, 1971, at their first organizational meeting, under the leadership of Elwyn Isaacs, the Rogers County Historical Society was born. A Certificate of Incorporation dated, February 15, 1973, eventually followed.[i]
Elwyn Isaacs (1971), John McClellan (1980), Marleta McGuire (1981) Jody Guilliams (1982), and Judy Stinson (1983) served as early presidents of the society. Home tours featuring homes of early Rogers County pioneer were organized as fundraisers in these early years. [ii]
From 1984 – 1985, Mary Jo Neal served as president. Dues were $5 for individuals and $7.50 for family membership. At this time, the RCHS enhanced the Will Rogers “Library Park” with three reproduction light poles. A flagpole dedicated in honor of Elizabeth Gordon would come the following year.[iii]
From 1986 – 1987, when Wanda Moore served her first term as president, an initiative was organization to work towards having downtown Claremore become a “Main Street Town” with an “Historic District.”[iv] This was also the time in which the book, Recollections of Early Rogers County, was published.[v]
While Peggy Freese was serving as president (1988 – 1989), Joy Galloway and the Galloway family donated the “Largest Totem Pole in the World” and Totem Pole Park to the Society. Then began the concerted efforts of Carolyn Comfort, Gerry Payne, Jim Reed, the Rogers County Home Builders Association, the Foyil Heritage Association, and other interested volunteers to complete the restoration and painting of the park’s unique artifacts.[vi] This project was started (1983) and continued by the Kansas Grassroots Art Association with the large totem’s completion in 1996. By 1996, volunteers had finished the restoration of the Galloway home, parking lot, and access road.[vii]
“All my life I did the best I knew. I built these things by the side of the road to be a friend to you,” said Ed Galloway in his lifetime.[viii] Now Mr. Galloway’s large and freshly painted totem towering by the side of the road was ready to receive new friends.
From 1990 through 1993, Wanda Moore again served as RCHS president. RCHS dues was raised to $10 for a single, $15 for a family, and $25 for a sponsoring membership.[ix]
With the assistance of Dr. Will Barnes and Attorney Jim Tanner, and a rally cry of “Old friends are worth keeping,” in March 1991, the iconic Belvidere Mansion (built by JM Bayless in 1907) became the property of the Rogers County Historical Society.[x] This launched a tremendous fundraising and cleanup campaign done with the help of many more civic minded volunteers. Aid also came from the City of Claremore and Judge David Box, who assigned additional workers from the Community Service Program to participate in the cleanup.[xi]
But these days weren’t filled with just work and no play. There were Croquet Classics, a “Good Old Days” celebration, a Chuck Wagon Breakfast, the “Oklahoma Women in the Arts” event, and the new holiday favorite, “Christmas at the Belvidere.”[xii]
Eventually, Ron Frantz, architect with the Oklahoma Main Street Program joined the Belvidere Mansion restoration project to give his expert advice.[xiii]
Because of its preservation of both the Belvidere Mansion (National Register of Historic Places, 1982) and Totem Pole Park (National Register of Historic Places, 1999), in March of 1992, the Rogers County Historical Society received the State Historic Preservation Officer’s Citation of Merit Award.[xiv] But the Society did not stop there. The iconic Will Rogers Hotel was for sale.
It was announced in March 1994, “The owners of the Will Rogers Hotel would like for the RCHS to become the new owners of the Hotel. The price is $1.00.”[xv]
The six-story, 70-room Will Rogers Hotel (dedicated 1930, National Register of Historic Places, 1994) was purchased during the Presidency of Maggie Box. Elmo Tanner, John Cary, and Jane Sallee became leaders in The Will Rogers Hotel restoration campaign, but with the tremendous size of the job, many volunteers were required. Women from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility came to help with the cleanup.[xvi] Grants were applied for, fundraisers were given, monetary and “in-kind" donations were received. Eventually, a three-way partnership was formed between Community Action, Metro Plains, and the Rogers County Historical Society to complete the job. Access to the lobby, mezzanine, and ballroom were retained for RCHS meetings and to display Rogers County artifacts. Office space was retained by Community Action, and thirty-six apartments were rented out by Metro Plains as low-income housing.[xvii]
Maggie Box began her presidency in 1994 with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and a dedicated group of RCHS volunteers; they had several daunting tasks ahead of them. Yet, it was in this year, in October, that the Society suffered a great loss. Their dear friend, former RCHS President Wanda Moore passed away.[xviii]
After the first Belvidere Mansion property mortgage was paid off in 1994, Phase II of the mansion restoration project began. More fundraisers followed: The Hard Hat Ball, Croquet Tournament, Hawaiian Luau, Totem Pole Park BBQ, the Gatsby Follies, Belvidere Candlelight Drama, and Christmas at the Belvidere entertained the wider Claremore community. A vintage Claremore Souvenir Booklet reprint, “Souvenir Booklet, Claremore, Oklahoma, 1910-1915,” by L. Ida Lawley; [xix] the Will Rogers Hotel Cinnamon Bread recipe; a limited-edition architectural blue-print of the Hotel Will Rogers, and a woven cotton Claremore afghan, designed by Claremore art teacher Linda Scudder, were created and sold.[xx]
1996 was the year that the Heritage Recipes cookbook was published,[xxi] Sandi Dyer made her limited edition prints of her painting, “Local News,” available, and the first life-sized Sandra VanZandt, “All I know is what I read in the papers,” statue of Will Rogers sitting on a park bench, was funded and placed near the “new” Claremore Progress office building for the public’s enjoyment.[xxii]
So much had been accomplished by the Rogers County Historical Society in their first quarter century of existence. They truly deserved to be recognized as the “Outstanding Historical Society in the State of Oklahoma for 1995.”[xxiii] There were already so many preservation accomplishments. Still, three restoration projects needed completion, and a future building restoration project was yet to come. Could this many essential preservation projects be simultaneously maintained by one small group of devoted Claremore history lovers?
by Christa Rice
[i] Minutes of the Organizational meeting of the Rogers County Historical Society, 25 February 1971.
[ii] RCHS Newsletter, Volume I, Number 2, September 1971; 1981 Jan - March RCHS Newsletter; 1983 May RCHS Newsletter; 1893 August RCHS Newsletter.
[iii] 1984 February & July RCHS Newsletter. 1986 July RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 6 No. – Presidency of Wanda Moore.
[iv] 1986 July RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 6 No. 4 – President – Wanda Moore.
[v] Recollections of Early Rogers County Stories of Early Homes, Buildings & Pioneers. Rogers County Historical Society. Country Lane Press: Claremore, Oklahoma. c. 1987. $9.95.
[vi] 1989 July RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 10 No. 4 – President – Peggy Feese.
[vii] 1996 July RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 17 No. 4 – President – Maggie Box.
[viii] 1996 July RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 17 No. 4 – President – Maggie Box.
[ix] 1990 January RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 11 No. 1 – President – Wanda Moore.
[x] 1991 March RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 12 No. 2 – President – Wanda Moore.
[xi] 1991 May RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 12 No. 4 – President – Wanda Moore.
[xii] 1991 November RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 12 No. 7 – President – Wanda Moore.
[xiii] 1992 March RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 13 No. 3 – President – Wanda Moore.
[xiv] 1992 March RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 13 No. 3 – President – Wanda Moore.
[xv] 1994 January RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 15 No. 1 – President – Maggie Box.
[xvi] 1994 March RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 15 No. 2 – President – Maggie Box.
[xvii] RCHS Speech at Catoosa Historical. Apr 22, 2002. Notecard 3.
[xviii] 1994 November RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 15 No. 6 – President – Maggie Box.
[xix] Lawley, L. Ida. “Souvenir Booklet, Claremore, Oklahoma, 1910-1915.” Muskogee Printing Co…. Muskogee, Oklahoma.
[xx] 1994 May RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 15 No. 3 – President – Maggie Box.
[xxi] Heritage Recipes, Rogers County Historical Society. Cookbooks by Morris Press: Nebraska. c. 1996.
[xxii] 1996 March RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 17 No. 2 – President – Maggie Box.
[xxiii] 1996 May RCHS Newsletter. Vol. 17 No. 3 – President – Maggie Box.