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July 29, 1995

Several folks from Perry have been spending time in a few of our neighboring cities recently as we begin the process of dressing up and improving our community through the Oklahoma Main Street program. It is like seeing our old friends in a whole new light because they are showing us what can be done here with the same kind of effort and dedication they have manifested.

Newkirk, county seat of Kay county, claims a population of about 2,000. "This town was dead or dying on the vine three years ago when we got into the Main Street program," civic workers there told a group of Perry Main Streeters last week. Starting their fourth year in the program, they can point with pride to a large number of major accomplishments along with the foundation for still more.

Newkirk's entire business district was placed on the National Register in 1984 as an historic district. Newkirk has one of the most intact streetscapes in Oklahoma. Many of the lovely, turn-of-the-century buildings are constructed of native limestone which was quarried a few miles east of Newkirk, The predominant architecture of these buildings is down as Plains Romanesque. Later buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s are of brick with the architecture being Plains Commercial. As a result of Newkirk's beautiful buildings, the community qualified in 1992 to become one of the first small towns in the Main Street program under the direction of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce

All of the information in the preceding paragraph comes directly from a handsome brochure produced by the town's weekly newspaper, the Newkirk Herald Journal. Now let me add some of the observations made by the Perry group during their visit. We were impressed.

U.S. 77 runs right down the Newkirk Main Street, so the Department of Transportation has recently resurfaced its entire length through town. Decorative new light poles and functional new traffic lights were included. The city itself installed broad new cement sidewalks. Storefronts have been painted, old veneers stripped away, attractive new business signs installed, canvas awnings in harmonious colors have been put up, and vacant building have been made to appear occupied with window displays and other techniques. Benches have been installed on both sides of Main Street for the use of shoppers or anyone else.

"Pocket Parks" have been created on both sides of Main Street to soften the overall look. These are tear-shaped islands near each intersection, bursting with blooming plants and lush greenery that are well-maintained and free of weeds and trash. A Teen Town Center has been created in a 25-foot front building just off Main Street. It is small but very clean and heavily used on weekend nights. The center has pool tables, Nintendo and other video games, a meeting room with shiny hardwood floor, plenty of chairs and a serving counter where soft drinks and snacks are sold. A large blue "Newkirk Tigers" banner is displayed on one wall.

Most of the downtown buildings in Newkirk were built in the 1890s and early 1900s. Kay county, of course, was part of the Cherokee Outlet and was settled in the Sept. 16, 1893, land run just like Perry. One entire block on the east side of Main Street went up in flames in 1901, and the block was totally rebuilt the following year. Architectural styles on that block are very similar, but a rich variety of influences can be seen elsewhere. Sadly, many of the beautiful old two-story buildings in Newkirk were virtually abandoned for years. During that time, roofs rotted away, allowing rain and other elements of weather to seriously damage the lower areas, plus rodents, insects, birds and other temporary inhabitants also harmed the structures. When restoration was undertaken, it was quite often necessary to remove the second story because of structural deterioration, so those buildings have a truncated look. Several buildings were scheduled for demolition until rescued by Newkirk citizens concerned with preserving the town's historic structures.

You might think Newkirk's tourist trade suffers because of its distance from I-35. Not so, say the Main Streeters there. They have found that many travelers prefer the less-congested highways and seek out locales such as this. As a result, Newkirk now has a surprisingly large number of first-rate antique and collectible shops. We found only one cafe in town. It is combined with a bakery, and they serve the tastiest sandwiches you will find anywhere on fresh-from-the-oven white or whole wheat bread. Plus, lemon poppy seed cake and huge cinnamon rolls. We saw no sign of any fast-food restaurants.

A large number of the Newkirk Main Street group turned out on a Saturday morning to greet the Perry delegation, and they were most gracious hosts. They are justifiably proud of what they have done and they are urging us to get our program in high gear. One of the Newkirk group was a former Perryan -- Juhree Sherrod Vanderpool, who lived here with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Sherrod, until she was 12 years old. She still remembers this little city with affection. Juhree's mother, Jeannette, also lives in Newkirk, as does Juhree's sister, Sondra. Sondra is the town's librarian. A brother, Kim, lives in California. Juhree lives at 321 W 8th street (ZIP 74647), and would be glad to hear from any of the family's former friends here. Virgil Sherrod, now deceased, was advertising manager of The Perry Daily Journal before the family left here in the early 1940s.

I think a lot of us had our eyes opened by the results that have been achieved in Newkirk. That should inspire the Perry Main Street workers to press on and strive to reach equally lofty goals. We have been shown that it can be done. What we need is support and participation by our entire community. That's how they did it in Newkirk. Let's roll up our sleeves and join in this worthwhile effort. Call Betty Warner, 336-1212, director of the Perry Main Street program, and tell her you want to help. Doesn't matter what your skills are. She can use you.