Novemeber 26, 2002
A big portion of the old Highway Department complex on the U.S. 64 curve at the south edge of town went up in flames last week. The old administrative building and warehouse made a huge bonfire, perhaps the biggest of that type since the Long-Bell Lumber Yard burned to the ground a few years ago. To some of us with long memories, the old highway building represented a special period of time in this community.
In 1937, the Perry business community was in dire straits. Most of the world was in a prolonged economic vise, the Great Depression, and despite the best efforts of politicians and some self-appointed but misguided "wizards," no relief was in sight. Perry families suffered along with the rest of the universe. Suddenly, after months of negotiation and backstage maneuvering, an announcement was made that Perry had been selected as the location of a State Highway Department division headquarters. Something like that will jump-start the economic heart of a community, and local leaders were ecstatic. Locating a division headquarters here meant Perry residents would have a sizable payroll to count on, jobs for the unemployed, and the apparent certainty of an entity that would not suddenly pick up stakes and disappear.
So the news was met with a glad reaction locally and the magnitude of the layout became clearer when the buildings were under construction. Initially the newly formed Highway Patrol planned to locate a district office here and share facilities with the Highway Department, but in the end the patrol office was moved to Pawnee. Perry civic leaders were content with their good fortune. A few years ago the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (new name of the State Highway Department) decided to relocate its Perry office and built a complete new division yard here. The former location was bought by the Charles Machine Works, Inc. The administrative building-warehouse became a new home for the City Police Court and eventually Stagecoach Community Theatre was invited to make use of the building. The city has some equipment secured on the grounds there and the Perry School District uses the area for its buses. Last week's fire destroyed some of CMW's records but the Police Court and Stagecoach had long since moved to newer and nicer locations. Thank goodness, there were no personal injuries and many of the structures are pretty much intact. So, a chapter ends in the story of this community but a new one begins. The big fire was a dramatic exclamation point, but it reminds us of how important that facility was to the desperate citizens of Perry in the midst of the Great Depression.
On a personal note, I was saddened last week to learn of the death of Irene Hamous at age 91 in Oklahoma City. Her late husband, Merrill, was a pharmacist in our family's City Drug Store in the early 1930s. Later, he and Jim Hopper opened a pharmacy in the old Masonic Temple. The Hamous family have always been good friends and I particularly remember their daughter, now Barbara Barker, as a vivacious and always friendly young lady. Condolences to the family.