Owasso: A City With Big Plans And No Limits

Associate Editor

GOING UP: Owasso began developing a skyline with the construction of the First Bank of Owasso building in 2009. The bank became the community’s first financial institution when it opened on Sept. 8, 1962, raising $1 Million in deposits on its first day. In 1985 the first branch was opened at German Corner to serve clients in north Tulsa County. In 1987 a second branch was opened at 86th Street North and 129th East Avenue. On Nov. 11, 2009, the main bank relocated to the five story headquarters at 86th Street North and Garnett Road. The First Bank of Owasso serves over 14,000 clients in 40 states and its total assets exceed $220 Million, though it remains locally owned and managed


The first settlements of what would become Owasso, Okla. date back to 1881 making this bustling community of today the oldest in Tulsa County. The early settlement was first known as the Elm Creek Settlement, named after the meandering prairie stream on whose banks settlers like H.T. (Tole) Richardson homesteaded.

As was the case with so many of early American communities, the railroad would play a significant role in the development of this meager gathering of pioneers. Elm Creek was located in the Cooweescoowee District of the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory near what is now 66th Street North and North 129th East Ave. In 1897 plans for an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad line extending south from Bartlesville became apparent when workers dammed up a spring-fed stream three miles south of Elm Creek Settlement making a holding pond to feed the mighty steam engines soon to come.

The railroad company was bent on establishing a new “terminus point” to haul away the increasing supply of cattle and grain being raised on the fertile grasslands and open prairie of the Verdigris River bottom and in doing so brought access to far away marketplaces for the large cattle ranches and farms comprising most of the surrounding area. The railroad was the artery that pumped the lifeblood of commerce into the Tall Grass Prairie.

The name Owasso comes from the Cherokee word meaning “trial’s end.” This therefore became the name eventually adopted by the town’s early residents, many of whom set up shop around the newly constructed train depot to capitalize on the influx of people, produce and products. Owasso had achieved a foothold in the diminishing American frontier at the turn of the 20th Century.

Seven years before statehood and thanks to enterprising town founders, a school was built. In 1900 records show 47 pupils attended the subscription school for $1 a month.

In 1904 the first church was built and aptly named, The First Baptist Church. In that same year three hotels were built: the Eureka, the Palace and the Owasso Hotel. A year before statehood in 1906, through the efforts of Dr. J. W. Kirksey, the town of Owasso was incorporated under the laws of Indian Territory and Arkansas. Once Oklahoma joined the union things begin to solidify for the mostly agrarian economy of Owasso. In 1907 the population was 397. But would bring a seismic shift to the little prairie town.

Small communities that grow into bustling towns and eventually thriving cities each have their own unique story. The success of a community is all too often a matter of pure and simple luck like being in the right place at the right time and having the right people in charge to make the most of the good fortune. And so it was for Owasso following .

The story goes like this: starting back in the early days of aviation, Tulsa, by virtue of its petroleum based economy, became a major player in the growth and maturity of the nation’s aviation industry. Adventuresome oil barons in search of new markets for petroleum products had both the resources and entrepreneurial spirit to explore the possibilities of aviation as a viable means of commercial transportation and so they did.

Most notably the names of Phillips and Skelly appear frequently in any treatise of American aviation. Tulsa was thus positioned to land one of the large military aviation facilities building up almost overnight across the heartland with the outbreak of the war.

The “Big Bomber Plant” became the cornerstone of a vibrant aviation industry that would flourish through the next five decades attracting major aerospace industry players like McDonnell  Douglas, Rockwell International and American Airlines. And so there the little town of Owasso sat unwittingly poised to benefit from an influx of new residents spawned by a burgeoning aviation industry.

They came from across the country, aviation mechanics with specific work skills to build, operate and maintain military, private and commercial aircraft along with a myriad of entrepreneurs, engineers, draftsmen, designers and other support professionals. The serene, ample, open prairie land and proximity of Owasso drew many of the new arrivals and the town began to grow. In 1972 the once little prairie town saw the writing on the wall and became city chartered.

With population growth came demand for bigger schools, housing, retail outlets, local dining and entertainment; but most important was the ever-increasing demand on the roadway between Owasso and the robust aerospace industry on the northern edge of Tulsa. US Highway 169 was first a two-lane blacktop road bringing commuters in and out of the farming community turned small city. In the early 1970s the highway department finally got around to widening this stretch of town-to-market highway to accommodate the prodigious increase in traffic. With that, restaurants and retail businesses sprung up along the widened artery like wild prairie flowers. Plans are in the works to further widen the busy stretch of commuter highway and replace two antique bridges leading into the city.

Owasso’s slogan is “A City Without Limits.” When it comes to building bigger schools or upgrading infrastructure over the years voters have repeatedly shown a willingness to invest virtually without limits in their community by passing municipal bond initiatives to meet growing needs. The results speak for themselves. It is easily one of the fastest growing communities in Oklahoma. In the decade of the 1990s the population grew 67-percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, Owasso’s population was 18,502. The 2010 census recorded 28,915, an increase of more than 1,000 per year with no signs of slowing down.

Indeed, today there seems to be little stopping a city with a self image of limitless possibilities. With a history that mixes consistent, dedicated community stewardship with plain old good fortune, Greater Tulsa’s oldest community stays young at heart and energetic in spirit. Who would dare put a limit on that?

The July issues of Newspapers will feature Part Two of the Owasso story as part of the Greater Tulsa Profile, an ongoing series of articles about areas, towns, and cities in Greater Tulsa.

Updated 05-21-2012

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