August 8, 1996
Billville was mentioned in a column the other day when the subject was Fannie L. Eisele's interesting little book on the history of Covington and community. Billville was a familiar gas station several miles east of Enid, not too far from Covington, in Garfield county on old U.S. 64, then the main route between Perry and our neighbors over there.
Billville sat on the north side of the highway, and it was more than just a place to buy a few gallons of gas. It sprawled out over a pretty good piece of the landscape. The proprietor, Mr. Bill Oldham, had a line of cold drinks, snack foods, tires, batteries and accessories, plus a few trinkets and souvenirs for the tourists. Today we'd call his business a convenience store, but in the 1920s through the 1960s, when Billville flourished, we just thought of it as a friendly place to stop for fuel, use the rest rooms and a little conversation with the folks behind the counter.
Used to be a lot of those spots. Another was Bill's Corner, 12 miles east of Perry, and many others could be found along the two-lane highways and byways. Buses stopped there, and you could feel safe day or night whether waiting for a transfer, transacting business, or just passing the time of day. Many times the owner might let you spend the night on the premises if you missed connections on the bus line.
My recent reflection on Billville stirred the memories of some other folks around here. Mrs. Lillie Dykes and her husband, Jack, came to know more about Billville during World War II. Jack was stationed with the Army at Camp Wallace near Hitchcock, Texas, in the Galveston area. While en route home to Perry on leave one weekend, the Dykes' picked up a hitchhiking Air Force lieutenant from Ellington Field who turned out to be the son of Mr. and Mrs. Oldham. The Dykes' would be going right by Billville, so they gave him a lift and they all became friends because of that trip. Sad to add, the airman later was killed in the war.
Wayne Casteel hails from that same general area, around Lucien, Covington and Hayward, and he has many memories of Billville. His principal recollection, however, is of the time in the 1960s when he conducted a huge auction to dispose of the entire property. The Oldhams had died by then and the family chose to sell off the whole parcel. Wayne says it took more than one day to dispose of everything.
Walt Beard says his grandfather, Charles Dibble, ran the gas station at Billville in the late 1920s. Walt remembers a school house used to be located at the southwest corner of that same intersection. Many more interesting recollections about the place probably could be assembled from folks around here.
Bill's Corner still exists as a placename 12 miles east of Perry on the intersection of U.S. 64 and 177, but Bill Turner's two-story gas station, bus stop and family residence on the southwest corner of that intersection are long gone from there. Actually, Mr. Turner sold the business years before his death in 1960. In the mid-1940s, Mary Ellen Coldiron's parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Dunivan, bought the Bill's Corner business and made their home there. Mary Ellen and her brothers, Dale and Everett, had bedrooms upstairs and their parents lived in the ground floor living quarters of the sturdy frame building. Mr. Turner was Mrs. Dunivan's uncle. The Dunivans bought the business from one of Mr. Turner's daughters.
Today Le Cafe and other businesses, including a gas station, dominate the Bill's Corner intersection, and several fine homes are nearby. Mary Ellen remembers there were many cottonwood trees and low-lying areas across the highway from the Bill's Corner station when the Dunivans lived there. As a youngster, I used to make an occasional bus trip to Chandler to see my grandmother and an aunt, and we always had to change buses at Bill's Corner. It was a busy place. Today a one-story cement block building occupies part of the site where the Bill's Corner station was located.
The original Bill's Corner station was built by Bill Turner and his wife, Sadie, in 1923 in the northeast corner of the intersection. The road stretching north was not paved. That came much later as a "football highway" project to lure more Ponca City fans to games at Stillwater's Oklahoma A&M College. The east-west road was paved as part of the U.S. 64 route reportedly laid out by none other than the famous Pawnee Bill (Major Gordon W. Lillie), who served for a time on the state highway commission. Mr. Turner died in 1960 and is buried in Pleasant Valley cemetery at Sumner.
A few remain, but today's superhighways and modern, high-speed transportation methods have eliminated many of these crossroads enterprises. Like the other icons of those times, they are still missed by those of us old enough to fondly remember the Billvilles and Bill's Corners of yesteryear.