The Discover Small Town America Tour-mobile odometer tells us we’re about half way across the Country (more than 2,000 miles in our rear view mirror). Still going strong and still talking to each other!
We headed west this morning to Oklahoma. Taking the advice of our Florida neighbors Dale and Kathy, who have lived there for many years, we headed straight to Stillwater, home of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys.
It was game day and the town was a sea of orange – OSU’s color. Unfortunately, we didn’t have tickets to the game (or orange t-shirts), so we did what we do best – found a great place to eat. Our stroll down Stillwaters’ historic Main Street brought us to a place with an unlikely small town name – Brooklynn’s Restaurant. What a treat! Shrimp and salads with a southwestern twist and a hint of spice hit the spot.
Football fans fueling up before the big game.
Bart decided to live like a local and wear the orange.
Signs of OSU pride were everywhere. Go Cowboys!
Rorie likes to meet the locals and just hang out. This one wasn’t particularly talkative.
We said goodbye to Stillwater and headed out to parts unknown…Our next stop was the small town of Perkins (pop. approx. 2,800), where the Iowa Tribe of OK is based. Founded in 1889 during the Land Run, 40 acres of land were used to establish the township. Once the railway began service in 1900, Perkins became known as an agricultural trade center.
Hopping on to historic Route 66 in OK, we entered Arcadia (pop. approx. 247). Now that’s a small town. Established after the Land Rush of 1889, cotton farmers flocked to the area and the town thrived as an agricultural community. As we cruised along the 2-lane highway, we first passed the big red Round Barn, a Route 66 icon. Built in 1898 out of bur oak boards which were forced into curves, the 2nd level of the barn was used as a community gathering place. It’s the only truly round barn in America.
Just down the road we stumbled on to the very kitschy Pops Soda Ranch in the town of Arcadia. Given the 66-foot tall neon soda bottle out front, it was pretty hard to miss. This landmark diner and gas station was built by the late OK oil and gas magnate Aubrey McClendon.
Pops sells over 700 types of soda, the largest selection of soda in the country…maybe even the world. They even carried Avery’s soda from New Britain, CT – our home state. The angled glass walls of the building are lined with shelves of soda bottles arranged by beverage color. A kaleidoscope of carbonation!
Rorie went right to Pops candy section to see if they had any of her childhood favorites. Unfortunately they did.
Our day was packed with some wonderful sights and tastes, but ended on a solemn note at the Oklahoma City Memorial. This beautiful, but heart-breaking, site honors the victims, survivors, rescuers and all people impacted by the April 19, 1995 bombing. The memorial is located on the former site of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building which was destroyed in the bombing. The peaceful reflecting pool, Field of Empty Chairs, and The Survivor Tree are all symbols to remind us of that tragic day.
The Monumental Twin Gates positioned at each end of the reflecting pool are etched with the last moment of peace (9:01 on the Eastern Gate) and the first moment of recovery (9:03 on the Western Gate). It is said that those people seeing their image in the reflection pool are “seeing someone changed forever by what happened here”.
Each gate bears this inscription.
The Survivor Tree, an American Elm, was heavily damaged in the blast and was slated to be removed. A year after the bombing, people gathered for a memorial ceremony noticed the tree beginning to bloom again. It is now a beloved and protected symbol of the spirit and deeply rooted faith of the city and nation.
The Field of Empty Chairs is a haunting tribute to the 168 people who lost their lives. The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families. The 9 rows symbolize the 9 floors of the Federal building.
Message scrawled by a rescuer on the wall of a neighboring building.
After a long day of discovery, we headed back to our Airbnb “headquarters” (below) and began packing for tomorrow’s search for more surprising small town discoveries.
One of our take-aways from exploring Oklahoma was that not all small towns are quaint and thriving. Some are hard-scrabble, economically challenged communities – barely getting by. But regardless of the economic state or physical condition of these towns, it was the local residents and their community spirit, optimism and down-home friendliness that make so many of these places remarkable. Oklahomans, we’re glad we met ya…and we look forward to meeting more of you tomorrow.