Travel to U.S.: Oklahoma: Oklahoma's Small Towns
Many and maybe most of Oklahoma's small towns are in desperately poor shape. In some cases, the residents aren't as poor as their town suggests, mainly because they work and shop an hour's drive away. Still, the places they call home are dying. For more on the character of these places, see Where the Jokes Wear Thin.
All told, Oklahoma has about 3.3 million people. The number's been pretty stable over the last 20 years, with losses during most of the 1980s countered by very modest growth during the 90s. Of the 3 million, almost 2 million live in greater Oklahoma City (1 million), Tulsa (775,000), or Lawton (113,000). All the state's seven cities with a population exceeding 50,000 are in those metropolitan areas, which leaves about 1.5 million people scattered in places smaller than 50,000. Here's a main-street building in one of them, Tecumseh, population 5,900 (Pottawatomie County). It's suggestive of the urban aspirations of the state's founders--and of the scramble to put obsolete buildings to some use before they're abandoned altogether.
This sign is going to wind up on "Antiques Roadshow" one of these days. It's overkill here in Coyle, population 300 (Logan County), north of Oklahoma City.
Rule of thumb: proximity to an Interstate is good; remoteness from one is bad. Here's bad: a domino parlor in Ringling (Jefferson County), on the Texas border. Population 1,200.
Ringling's broad and deserted main street, on an August afternoon hotter than a firecracker .
Two counties west of Ringling is a major agricultural county: Tillman County, population 9,400 and falling. Here's a building on the mainstreet of the county seat, Frederick, population 4,700. The swinging doors are a nice reminder of the cotton crop once so important here. Farming doesn't take many people nowadays.
Not a lot of demand (Frederick).
North a bit: an abandoned hotel in Comanche, population 1,600. The town is southeast of Lawton on U.S. 81, once a major interstate arterial.
U.S. 81 as it comes through Comanche, not far from the abandoned hotel.
The main residential avenue of Waurika (Jefferson County), population 1,800. The Union Pacific Railway comes through, and this avenue runs perpendicular to the track, but there's no passenger service, and folks shop at the Wal-Mart in Ardmore, population 23,000 and one county to the east, over on Interstate 35.
Another oversized street, this one farther north in Medford (Grant County). This is prime wheat country, just south of Kansas, but there are only a thousand people in this country seat--and only 5,000 in the whole county.
Mainstreet Waukomis, population 1,300. The town is only a few miles south of Enid (Garfield County), close to the center of this country's winter-wheat area. Big deal: being a contender in primary production doesn't help build population.
West of Enid a few miles: Ringwood, population 400.
Cleo Springs, (Major County) west of Enid. The town has 330 people.
A century of hard knocks doesn't seem to have done much to dent the local faith in growth, perhaps because a few of these towns actually are still growing. Geronimo, population 1,000, had only 103 people in 1960; it's close to Lawton, however, and to Fort Sill with its retirees.
West of Oklahoma City, U.S. 66 and Interstate 40 run through Weatherford, population 9,600. Thanks to the Interstate and Southwest Oklahoma State University, the town is hanging on, even if bank buildings become second-hand clothing stores.
A similar story: the main street of Clinton, 20 miles farther along the Interstate on its way west.
The once-upon-a-time center of Clinton, population 8,700. The action today has shifted toward the freeway.
Clinton used to have a big old hotel, closed for many years. In 2000, it was brought down.
The last wall.
The Katy Station in Elk City. It's now a steakhouse, mighty convenient if you're hungry between Amarillo and Oklahoma City.
It wasn't always the Katy. It started out as the Wichita Falls and Northwest Railway.
Nearby: downtown Butler, population 320. Butler was settled during the great land runs of a century ago. A lot of the folks who settled here at that time moved on after a few years; it was tough then, as now, to make a living here.
Still farther west: Erick, last stop in Oklahoma. This is the main intersection in town.
Down the street a block: an antique store in the old butcher shop.
Before you know it, you're in Shamrock, Texas.
It's the U Drop Inn Cafe, part of the Tower Building, built in 1936 by a businessman from nearby Pampa.
Nice '48 Plymouth--or was that just my imagination?
Back in Oklahoma: looking along that road--U.S. 66. Ready for the movie?
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