Ponca City history, attractions, and things to do for history buffs

Welcome to Ponca City, Oklahoma, a city steeped in history and home to an array of captivating historical tourist attractions. From the iconic City Hall and Centennial Plaza, celebrating the legacy of pioneering oil tycoons, to the Ponca City Library, an architectural gem fostering knowledge for generations, this city offers a delightful journey into the past.

The Poncan Theatre stands as a charming relic of the 1920s, while the E. W. Marland Mansion and the Marland Grand Home exude grandeur from a bygone era.

Art enthusiasts will find solace in the Pickens Museum’s exquisite collection. As you explore the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and the Pioneer Woman Statue, immerse yourself in the captivating tales of Ponca City’s vibrant history.

A brief history of Ponca City

Ponca City, Oklahoma, has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to 1893. Originally known as “New Ponca,” the city came into existence during the Cherokee Strip land run, the largest land run in U.S. history, which opened the Cherokee Outlet for European-American settlement.

The site for Ponca City was carefully chosen for its proximity to the Arkansas River and a freshwater spring, providing essential resources for the growing community. The city’s layout was designed by Burton Barnes, who also became its first mayor after the lots were drawn and sold.

Nearby, another city called Cross competed with Ponca City for prominence, but the latter secured a railway station by offering enticing incentives to the Santa Fe station agent. In 1913, “New Ponca” officially became Ponca City.

The city’s trajectory and economy have been heavily influenced by the oil industry, with E. W. Marland playing a crucial role. A Pennsylvania oilman, Marland founded the Marland Oil Company and later the 101 Ranch Oil Company. He discovered oil on land leased from the Ponca tribe and became highly successful, controlling about 10% of the world’s oil reserves.

Marland’s wealth and influence were instrumental in building Ponca City, and the city boasts several architectural gems reflecting the affluence of the time, including the Grand Home and the E.W. Marland Estate.

The 1920s saw Ponca City thriving, but with the Great Depression, the fortunes of the city changed. After a takeover bid, Marland Oil Co. merged with Continental Oil Co. (later known as Conoco), which maintained its headquarters in Ponca City until 1949. Over time, the petroleum industry’s workforce and presence in the city decreased, leading to a decline in population.

Despite the ups and downs of the oil industry, Ponca City has made efforts to diversify its economy. The city attracted technology, manufacturing, and service jobs, striving to move beyond its petroleum-centric history. ConocoPhillips, the company resulting from a merger, continues to operate a refinery in the area.

Beyond its petroleum legacy, Ponca City acknowledges the ancient history of indigenous peoples in the area, including the Ponca tribe. The forced removal of indigenous tribes in the 19th century and their subsequent settlement in Oklahoma shaped the region’s history.

The Ponca Nation has remained an essential part of Ponca City’s development and plays an active role in the community. To honor their heritage, Ponca City celebrates tribal culture through events like the annual Standing Bear Pow-wow.

The city built a park and museum named after Standing Bear, a chief who fought for Native Americans’ rights in the landmark case of Standing Bear v. Crook.

Ponca City’s history is a tapestry of Native American legacy, oil industry prosperity, and a community’s determination to adapt and thrive through changing times. As the city looks toward the future, it seeks to preserve its diverse heritage while fostering a resilient and vibrant community.

The City Hall and the Centennial Plaza

The City Hall and Centennial Plaza in Ponca City hold rich historical significance and represent the city’s heritage and growth. The City Hall building, a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial architecture, was originally constructed as the City Auditorium in 1916.

Over the years, it underwent expansions and renovations, including the addition of the east and west wings in 1922, transforming it into the Civic Center, housing various city offices, police, and fire stations.

Designed by the renowned architect Solomon Andrew Layton, known for his work on the Oklahoma State Capitol and other significant buildings in the state, City Hall stands as a testament to his architectural prowess.

Its restoration in 2001-2003 preserved its historical charm and added to its significance as a contributing building in the Downtown Ponca City Historic District.

Centennial Plaza, situated in front of City Hall, commemorates the early oil rush developers, tycoons, and philanthropists who played a crucial role in shaping Ponca City’s destiny.

The Plaza features three sculptures: the “Centennial Monument” by Jo Saylors, which pays homage to the historic Land Run of 1893; statues of “Ernest Whitworth Marland” by Jo Davidson and “Lewis Hanes Wentz” by Jo Saylors, honoring these esteemed oil millionaires and philanthropists.

The Plaza also boasts a plaque in honor of Burton Seymour Barnes, the city’s founder and its first mayor. In 1993, local citizens participated in creating the Plaza’s history by purchasing personalized bricks, symbolizing their claim to the city’s legacy.

The City Hall and Centennial Plaza not only serve as iconic landmarks but also remind the community of its vibrant past and the significant contributions of individuals who shaped Ponca City into what it is today.

These historical treasures stand as proud symbols of the city’s heritage and progress, attracting visitors and locals alike to appreciate and cherish their shared history.

The Ponca City Library

The Ponca City Library, located at 515 E. Grand Avenue in the heart of downtown Ponca City, holds a significant place in the community’s history. Constructed in 1935, this Renaissance Revival style building was designed by architect George J. Cannon, and it has served as a cornerstone of knowledge and learning for generations.

The library’s elegant design features light-colored brick walls adorned with intricate terra cotta trim, creating a semifireproof structure with reinforced concrete foundation walls and floors.

Inside, visitors can explore various reading rooms tailored to different age groups, including a reading room for adults, a junior reading room, and a children’s room. Additionally, the library houses a reference room, delivery room, workroom, librarian’s room, and ample stack space to accommodate its extensive collection of 81,097 volumes.

The Ponca City Library owes much of its success to the invaluable support and partnership of the Friends of the Library organization. Established on June 24, 1980, this dedicated group of volunteers plays a vital role in hosting diverse programs and financially supporting the library’s initiatives, responding to its needs each year.

As a liaison between the library and the community, the Friends of the Library organization helps foster a vibrant learning environment that benefits residents of all ages.

The Poncan Theatre

The Poncan Theatre, located in downtown Ponca City, is a historic theater of great significance. Designed by the Boller Brothers, it opened its doors on September 20, 1927, boasting a remarkable Wurlitzer pipe organ.

 Originally a vaudeville-movie theater combination, it later transitioned into solely a movie theater in the late 1940s.

Over the years, the theater underwent several changes. In 1939, a neon-lit marquee replaced the old one, and subsequent enlargements occurred in 1954 and 1962. Sadly, in 1985, the theater closed its doors, but hope returned in 1990 with the establishment of the Poncan Theatre Company, aiming to revive the historic gem.

The theater underwent extensive renovations, including the removal of the enlarged marquee in 1992 and its replacement with a faithful recreation of the original marquee from 1927. It officially reopened on September 18, 1994.

In recognition of its architectural and cultural importance, the Poncan Theatre was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 13, 1984.

In 2011, the theater became a contributing property of the Downtown Ponca City Historic District, further solidifying its historical importance.

The theater faces north and boasts an impressive three-story structure spanning 75 feet (23 meters) in width. Its first floor showcases a captivating stone facade, while the upper floors are adorned with polychrome brick cladding.

A striking central curvilinear gable parapet with terra cotta ornamentation and five finials graces the facade. The gable’s midline showcases a two-story rectangular window with beautiful stained glass sidelights, topped by a circular stained glass oculus window featuring a terra cotta sunburst.

Spiraled Corinthian columns surround the central window, accompanied by three rectangular windows on each side of the second and third stories. A terra cotta cornice crowns the building, supporting a red-tiled hip roof. The central entrance is recessed behind the box office, flanked on both sides by shallow storefronts.

The Poncan Theatre stands as a beloved icon of Ponca City’s heritage and an enduring symbol of entertainment and culture.

The E. W. Marland Mansion

The E.W. Marland Mansion, a grand Mediterranean Revival-style mansion, was constructed between 1925 and 1928. The mansion covers 43,561 square feet and is renowned as the “Palace on the Prairie.”

Designed by architect John Duncan Forsyth, it features a roughly U-shaped layout made of light-colored, rusticated limestone blocks quarried on-site and set in concrete on a steel frame.

The mansion’s west front boasts an arched and buttressed porte-cochère with clay-tiled roof and custom-made wood entrance doors. Sculptures of Marland’s hunting dogs adorn the inside corners of the porte-cochère.

The south front showcases triple arched windows with stone balconies and a unique drainage system displaying the Marland monogram and date “1927.” The east front exhibits a symmetrical facade with three levels, while the north front replicates the arched doorway. The hipped roof, decorated with stone corbeling, features red clay tiles and five large stone chimneys.

Spread across three floors, the mansion comprises 55 rooms, including 10 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 7 fireplaces, and 3 kitchens. The central hall plan highlights the entrance hall on the second floor, with a large stone arch, gilded domed ceilings, and stone-carved night owls in stairway niches.

The principal rooms are found on the second floor, including the Elizabethan formal dining room, a breakfast room, and a spacious ballroom with a gilded coffered ceiling.

The third floor houses the private quarters, including E.W. Marland’s wood-paneled bedroom and Lydie Marland’s Louis XV-style bedroom. The mansion also features guest suites, a library, and a poker room leading to a hidden Whiskey Room and tunnel to the Boat House and Artist Studio.

The grounds comprise 30 acres of gardens, lakes, and ancillary buildings. Noteworthy structures include Lydie’s Cottage, the Artist Studio housing sculptures and the Oil Museum, and the Boat House with an underground wine cellar.

The Marland Grand Home

The Marland Grand Home, also known as Marland’s Grand Home, is a historic landmark in Ponca City, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was the first home constructed by E. W. Marland. Built between 1914 and 1916, the 22-room mansion reflects the Italian Renaissance Revival style and spans 16,500 square feet.

Located on Grand Avenue, the Grand Home served as Marland’s residence until 1928 when he moved to his grand estate, the Marland Mansion, outside Ponca City. The mansion stands as a monument to Marland’s successful oil endeavors and extravagant lifestyle during Oklahoma’s early days in the petroleum industry.

Inside, the first floor showcases period furnishings, art, china, silver services, and family photos reminiscent of the Marland era. The Grand Home boasted lavish amenities for its time, including a central vacuuming system, automatic dishwasher, and an indoor swimming pool.

Marland even installed the first indoor air-conditioning unit in Oklahoma for his wife Virginia during her illness. The mansion also featured an attached three-car garage and a carriage house.

Marland had a profound love for gardens, and surrounding the Grand Home were four square blocks of formal gardens, inspired by English and French garden designs. East of the mansion, acres of meticulously planned gardens were crafted to evoke the grandeur of the Gardens of Versailles.

Marland hired the Japanese gardener, Henry C. Hatashita, who transformed the previously barren landscape into breathtaking formal and informal gardens.

The Grand Home, along with its lush gardens, hosted numerous grand events, parties, and gatherings attended by social, political, and business figures from across Oklahoma and the country. Marland’s love for swimming was evident in the mansion’s indoor pool, where he spent enjoyable hours despite his athletic rivals.

The mansion’s historical significance lies in its representation of Marland’s incredible rise from wildcatter to a successful oil entrepreneur and Oklahoma’s 12th governor.

The Pickens Museum

Pickens Museum is a remarkable fine arts institution with exhibition spaces at three different locations in North Central Oklahoma. Visitors can explore the museum’s offerings at the Pickens Learning Commons in the Vineyard Building at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, the Pickens Museum at City Central in Ponca City, and the Pickens Art Gallery at Woolaroc Museum in the Osage Hills between Barnsdall and Bartlesville.

The museum showcases a diverse range of art, including Native American jewelry adorned with turquoise by renowned artists like Jolene Bird, Bryon Yellowhorse, and Tanya Rafael.

African American art is also prominently featured, with masterpieces from artists like Malvin Gray Johnson, Faith Ringgold, and Varnette Honeywood. In addition, visitors can admire exceptional works by Oklahoma artists such as Eugene Bavinger, Robert Hardee, and Daniel Pickens.

One of the museum’s key objectives is to enrich the lives of both residents and visitors to North Central Oklahoma by supporting the arts and fostering an artist community. The museum’s dedication to promoting the cultural and economic benefits of art resonates throughout its exhibition spaces.

Among the museum’s highlights is the impressive “Winter in New York” exhibition, featuring large paintings by Oklahoma artist Roger Disney that capture the energy and vibrancy of Times Square. Another compelling exhibition, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” showcases the powerful serigraphs by Faith Ringgold depicting significant events in the Civil Rights Movement.

A notable addition to the museum’s collection is the Pioneer Woman mural, which offers a fresh and innovative perspective on this iconic symbol. Created by Daniel Pickens, the mural portrays close-ups of the Pioneer Woman’s face from different angles, breathing new life into a beloved and familiar image.

Pickens Museum’s commitment to monumental sculpture is evident in its display of the monumental bronze “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” by Osage artist John Free. This impressive bronze, measuring 12 feet long and 8 feet high, captivates visitors with its grandeur and artistry.

Additionally, the museum is home to the world’s largest Naja, a traditional Navajo motif representing strength and protection. This 20-foot Naja, crafted by metallic sculptor Stephen Schwark, stands proudly near the future location of Pickens Museum 2 miles west of Ponca City on Highway 60.

Through its diverse and captivating exhibitions, Pickens Museum continues to celebrate the beauty and significance of fine art, enriching the cultural landscape of North Central Oklahoma.

The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch

The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch was an iconic 110,000-acre cattle ranch in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, founded in 1893 by Colonel George Washington Miller, a Confederate Army veteran. Located near present-day Ponca City, it became a significant cultural and historical landmark.

The ranch was not only a thriving cattle operation but also the birthplace of the renowned 101 Ranch Wild West Show, one of the early contributors to the oil rush in northeastern Oklahoma.

When Colonel George Miller passed away in 1903, his three sons, Joseph, George Jr., and Zack, took over the ranch’s operation. By 1932, most of the land was owned by the Miller family, and they leased additional land from the Ponca, Pawnee, and Otoe Indians in various counties.

Inspired by their neighbor, Major Gordon W. Lillie (Pawnee Bill), the Miller Brothers ventured into the Wild West show business. In 1907, they performed at the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia, making their national debut. Over the years, their show featured remarkable performers such as Bill Pickett, Tom Mix, Jack Hoxie, and Buffalo Bill himself.

Despite facing financial challenges, including a serious railroad accident and the outbreak of typhoid fever among their cast members, the Miller Brothers’ show continued its journey across the United States and even toured Europe. However, with the rise of motion pictures, Wild West shows saw declining success, and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show faced similar hardships.

In addition to their show business, the Millers had significant involvement in the oil industry. In 1908, they partnered with E. W. Marland to form the 101 Ranch Oil Company, leading to the discovery of oil on their land. This discovery played a crucial role in the founding of the Marland Oil Company (later ConocoPhillips).

Tragedy struck the Miller family with the deaths of George Jr. in a car accident and Joe Miller, the eldest brother, who was found dead in his car. The family faced financial hardships during the Great Depression, and Zack Miller filed for bankruptcy in 1932.

The US government seized most of the ranch’s assets, and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show closed its curtains for the last time in 1939.

Today, only a small portion of the 101 Ranch property remains as a National Historic Landmark, serving as a reminder of its once-thriving legacy and the significant contributions it made to Oklahoma’s history.

The Pioneer Woman Statue

The Pioneer Woman Statue, a magnificent bronze sculpture, is a testament to the spirit of the pioneer women who played a vital role in shaping the American West.

Designed by sculptor Bryant Baker and dedicated on April 22, 1930, the statue portrays a sunbonneted woman leading a child by the hand. This striking piece of art was donated to the State of Oklahoma by millionaire oilman E. W. Marland.

Before settling on the final design, E. W. Marland commissioned models from twelve renowned sculptors and initiated a nationwide tour to gather feedback from art critics and the public. The competition sparked much discussion and media attention, with critics expressing their views on the various models presented.

The winning model by Bryant Baker depicted a glamorous figure of a pioneer woman, evoking the essence of Western myth more than historical reality. Baker’s Pioneer Woman, received the most votes during the nationwide tour.

With the project’s cost amounting to approximately $350,000, Marland sought additional funding to complete it. The unveiling of the statue took place on April 22, 1930, during a grand celebration attended by an estimated 40,000 people.

The Pioneer Woman monument holds a special place in Oklahoma’s history, symbolizing the strength and determination of pioneer women who played a significant role in building the state and the nation.

The area surrounding the statue was designated as Pioneer Woman State Park, and in 1958, on the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet, the state opened the Pioneer Woman Museum adjacent to the monument.

In 2002, the statue underwent renovations, including the repair of a crack in the boy’s boot. The restoration was funded by private foundations, individual donors, and various organizations.

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