March 9, 2001
Young Elm trees planted by Will T. Little in the courthouse part around the start of the 20th century were growing to maturity when this photo was made by an early day Perry photographer. This view apparently was made looking north on the east side of the park. An unidentified man is shown strolling on the sidewalk. Many of these trees were removed from the courthouse reserve and replanted at other parks in Perry. This photo is from the collection of the late Bertha Harris, a long-time assistant at the Perry Carnegie library.
These recent stories about Will T. Little and the part he played in the early development of this area seem to have evoked a great deal of interest among readers. Not surprising. Many of these columns delve into the history of Perry, Noble county and the Cherokee Outlet, and Mr. Little made quite an impact on our community by planting the first trees in the courthouse park and elsewhere. His name should be perpetuated. Folks should be interested in what he, along with other pioneers, left as a legacy for our benefit.
The thing that triggered this latest recounting of Will Little's farsighted planning was a question from Jo Wollard Garten of Ponca City. She is a Perry native who grew up here as a member of a prominent early day family. She relocated to Ponca City after her marriage to Mr. Roy Garten but her interest in Perry continues unabated. She remembers the pine trees in Grace Hill cemetery from her childhood and she is curious about how they came to be there. The Northwest Corner has served as a channel of information from various sources who remember fragments relating to Jo's inquiry.
Clarence Koch recalls from his childhood when his family lived in a house on the Perry stadium grounds while his father, Clarence Sr., was employed by the city parks department. In that capacity he helped to tend the pine trees in the cemetery that Mr. Little and his associates had planted. This was in the 1950s. "My Dad and two other men - I believe they were Bernard Schwartz and Clarence Wurtz - went to Kansas another year to bring back a concrete lion that had been acquired by the local Lions club. It's the one still mounted in Lions Park."
Let me call to your attention the following information about Grace Hill cemetery. It's from page four of Early Day History of Perry, Oklahoma, by Judge E.W. Jones: "... In January 1894 Grace Hill cemetery was platted on forty acres of the Hart homestead east of the City. Prior to this the school land section adjoining Perry on the West had been used for cemetery purposes. Bonds were issued to Hart and later declared void, but Hart never objected as he got his money as did the City the Cemetery location. Dick Nevins received $550 for making a plat of the new cemetery." There is more to this portion of Judge Jones' history lesson, but let's save that for another time. If you want still more information about Mr. Little and his tree program, find a copy of the Perry Daily Journal issue dated September 14, 1953. That edition, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Strip, includes a section with a complete page of stories and pictures about Will T. Little and the courthouse park.
As we have read previously, Mr. Little planted more than 800 elm saplings to hold down the soil in the courthouse park, and evidently all of the young trees grew to maturity. If that's hard to believe because of the droughts that visit this area every now and then, remember that the courthouse park has its own water well and uses it to this day to keep the grass green, the trees alive and the many plantings nourished. That must be how the saplings were sustained.
To conclude this bit of history, let me quote from the minutes book of the Perry city council, dated April 24, 1899: "...Will T. Little addressed the council on the matter of tree planting in parks or streets and said November and February were the best times to plant trees, but that from (the) natural condition of cemetery pines and evergreens would do well planted there next month. F. Taylor said he would fence the east side park (now Leo Park) an 8' board fence for use of same during summer as a ball ground and possibly he might plow same in the fall. On motion, Mayor Pancoast appointed Chessher, Mockley and Dennis as a committee to arrange matters with the ball club." Evidently the local baseball team played their games next door to the cemetery.
And that's how our predecessors got things done in the chaotic days and months that followed the opening of the Cherokee Outlet to settlers on September 16, 1893. My thanks to all who contributed recollections and other information about this story.