July 24, 1998
In 1904, when The Perry Republican ran a front-page photo of two adjacent business buildings on the north side of the square, no one realized that nearly one century later the picture would offer the best clues to the original appearance of those structures. They were handsome buildings, attractively designed and very up to date for this little prairie city which had been established only 11 years earlier. Judge E.W. Jones, editor of the paper, provided some additional information in the cutlines beneath the photo.
A reproduction of that picture appeared with this column the other day in connection with plans for the Renovation Workshop scheduled here next month by the Oklahoma Main Street organization. I promised then to provide more facts about the picture and Judge Jones' paper, and that will be the subject of today's column. The 1904 newspaper, you might recall, came to me from an anonymous benefactor, and it is in very good condition considering its age. I now know that Iris Rosser thoughtfully brought that paper to our house, and I thank her for it.
The line above the photo stated simply: "A Perry Structure," and the buildings are called "The Evans' Block." That name (Evans) comes from the owner of the property at that time, Judge J.E. Evans. The caption implies that the two buildings are one, but they clearly are not. Two 25-foot front businesses are shown. Let me quote the rest of The Republican's caption. It is rich in the newspaper syntax and language of the day.
Here is the text, with my notes italicized in parentheses: "The cut (photo) which accompanies this article is a view of the two blocks owned by Judge J.E. Evans, of Perry. They are beautiful buildings. The first building (not further identified) was erected during the winter of 1895-96, and the second building was completed during the first part of the winter of 1903. The Woodruff department stores occupy the first floors, and the second story floors are nicely and neatly finished and every room is occupied by attorneys, real estate agents, and banking and loan institutions."
Continuing with the newspaper's text: "Judge Evans came to Perry from Douglass, Wyoming, where he was register of the land office during the Harrison and part of the Cleveland administrations. But the Judge is a native of the Badger State and a pretty good Yankee. He has been a good member of the city council of the city of Perry, and has been and is at present territorial committeeman. He is a bright politician and a good republican, and is one of our good citizens. If we had twenty more men like Judge Evans, the whole square would be a solid mass of fire-proof buildings."
I love every word, every nuance in Judge Jones' newspaper. Again we are indebted to him for a sense of the way things were in Perry within the first decade or so of this city's existence. And it's nice to know that he thought Judge Evans was "a pretty good Yankee." In 1904, a majority of the population still remembered the War Between the States and had strong feelings about it. In Oklahoma, not all Northerners were considered "pretty good Yankees."
The name "B.J. Woodruff" belonged to the owner of one of the city's pioneer general mercantile stores, and it is visible on one of the store fronts. Ladies' dresses, with their long, sweeping lines, are easy to see in the window display. One of the large windows on the second floor of that building bears an arched sign reading: "Real Estate & Loans." Beneath that line appears "Office Of B.E. Lau & Co.", followed by two more lines which are not legible to me, even with magnification. The bottom line reads "Landagent" The ground floor of that building is now occupied by Three Sands Oil Co.
The second building, now owned by Butch and Sandy Ellis and slated for restoration in the Renovation Workshop next month, was part of Mr. Woodruffs store, but no identifying marks of ownership or occupants are visible on the lower floor. It has two tall, narrow display windows separated by a double door for customers' entry and a doorway leading to the stairwell for access to the second story. A large sign above the four arched windows identifies the upper level as offices of "Diggs & Cress, Attorneys at Law." Mr. Cress was P.W Cress, another true pioneer of the Cherokee Strip, and his first partner in the Perry law practice was Jim Diggs.
Mr. Woodruff, the merchant, was the father of Dorothy Ebersole and Maxine Mugler and grandfather of Sam Ebersole. Mr. Woodruff also owned a third adjacent building in that area. It later became the home of the Zorba Department Store and now houses Bob Kasper's law office. Much of that 1904 edition of The Perry Republican deals with early day businesses in Morrison. Somewhere down the line, I'll pass along some of that information and I think you will find it interesting, as I did.