July 8, 1997
Noble County Courthouse Park looked like this in the mid-1920s, when this picture probably was made. Notable prominent features in this photo are the narrow driveway, fairly young trees and street lights of that period. Work currently underway to renovate the park will restore street lights of this type along with wide sidewalks around the outer perimeter. In effect, the park will look more like this than it has in years.
What a great shock our founding fathers must have had when they first surveyed the original sorry-looking five-acre tract that was set aside by the U.S. government for Noble county's courthouse park in the new town of Perry, Oklahoma Territory. What they beheld was a gigantic mess. Some unscrupulous or badly misinformed people advised our Cherokee Strip run pioneers that the park was open to settlers, and on September 16, 1893, many of them staked claims there. Most were planning to establish businesses but they all were soon driven off at bayonet point by U. S. soldiers under orders to remove the unfortunate dupes. C. T. Talliaferro, the young grocer who became a cultural and philosophical leader of the Perry black community, was just one of those who made the mistake of trying to set up shop on the park grounds.
As if that kind of turmoil were not enough, our newly named county commissioners were presented with a designated park that formerly served as a buffalo wallow. The east side of the tract, about where our "hopes and Dreams" statue now stands, was a virtual mud bog, a favorite place for free-roaming buffalos to cool themselves during searing Oklahoma summers. Our commissioners must have been blessed with some special kind of vision to imagine that such swamp-like ground could be developed into a thing of beauty.
But they perceived it in their minds and became dedicated to the task of making improvements in an orderly way, and their successors through the years have followed suit. As a result today we have perhaps the most beautiful courthouse park in the entire state of Oklahoma. Show me one that's better.
With the help of pioneer environmentalists like Will T. Little, who personally planted hundreds of elm trees in the courthouse park and elsewhere throughout this county, our generation can enjoy the shady, green oasis where our stately courthouse stands. All of this forms an ideal backdrop for the aforementioned Centennial statue created for us in 1993 by former Perryan Bill Bennett. His work of art is a fitting tribute to all the early-day settlers of this prairie city. A granite marker elsewhere in the park now tells strollers about the man who planted those first trees.
Most of the seedlings placed in the ground by Mr. Little no longer survive, but they have been replaced as necessary through the years and so today we still can enjoy and admire the shade and beauty of those noble, leafy sentinels. The park is no stranger to controversy. When Andrew Carnegie endowed a $10,000 public library for Perry in 1910, an episode of comic-opera proportions ensued but now we possess one of the finest libraries to be found anywhere in a city of this size. When the Perry post office was renovated and enlarged some 30 years ago, an angry group objected to the expanded driveway and retaining wall made necessary by that overhaul, but now we take pride in the building and look forward to future improvements to expand its usefulness to local patrons.
The gracefully arching driveway originally coursing through the center of the park has been resurfaced and widened to provide parking space for the growing number of courthouse employees and the public they serve. The brick streets around the square have been covered with asphalt and widened to enable a smooth flow of today's vehicles, which are considerably larger than the horse-drawn wagons and surreys of an earlier time. It's a matter of adapting to current needs. Today's automobiles and trucks are larger than those of yesteryear and their front bumpers virtually cover the narrow, aging sidewalks now in place. New whiteway lights have been installed and updated with energy-savings fixtures.
Through all this, the courthouse park has remained serene and majestic, a place for musical entertainment on summer nights or a pleasant site for those who just enjoy walking and admiring the square. The park was not a thing of beauty in the early days, but because of the foresight of our early visionaries it has been nurtured and improved in many ways through the years. Even the name has been changed; originally it was called "Central Park" on legal plats of the townsite. Now it is tantamount to a trademark of our city. Visitors and newcomers never fail to remark on its beauty. When the current project is finished, we will rejoice and be thankful that the people of this community care so much about their public facilities that they work diligently at keeping them in first-class shape. I can't wait to see the finished project with the new period street lights, wide sidewalks, access facilities for the disabled, and all the other new features now being created. Thanks to the facilitators who make things like this possible.