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February 20, 2004

In 1895, the Noble County Courthouse Park became a baseball Field for a game between the Ponca Indian team and a Perry team. In the background is the two-story frame building that served as a courthouse until the present three-story stone building was built nearly three decades later. (Photo from Fred G. Beers collection.)

Story of courthouse filled with romance, drama

The Noble County Courthouse and the lush green park that surrounds it in the heart of Perry have been the pride of local citizens for many years. The lovely little five-acre park and the stately, three-story white stone building have been fastidiously cared for by men and women who rightfully took great pride in their work. But now the building itself is becoming structurally damaged and unsound. It is very much in the news these days as county officials look for ways to stop the foolish damage. Most of it apparently was largely caused by stopped-up toilets in the jail cells atop the building. Expensive furniture and carpets have been damaged or ruined in floors of the lower levels, and the building is suffering from excessive water. Even the handsome structure, the envy of many other counties, is showing signs of malicious mischief and just plain old age.

The story of our Courthouse Square contains enough drama and romance to fill a novel. In 1893, when the Cherokee Outlet was opened by the U.S. government to settlement by white citizens, some men with questionable scruples deluded several eager businessmen. Official-looking maps were distributed showing the new townsite of Perry, but containing a major flaw. The Courthouse Park (also known then as Central Park and other incorrect titles) was shown by the map to be approximately one block south of the actual location. As a result, several misinformed prospective businessmen staked claims for their stores in the government preserve, only to be driven off that land in a few days by troops brandishing weapons and bayonets. The dispute convinced some of them that Perry was not in their future. Most of those who stayed led comfortable lives.

In 1993, Perry and Noble County celebrated the centennial of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet, or Cherokee Strip as it is more commonly called. One of the highlights was the unveiling of an heroic bronze statue mounted on a base of Oklahoma granite on the east lawn of the Courthouse. The statue, created by local sculptor Bill Bennett, shows a man and a woman apparently driving into the new territory on a search for a happier, more prosperous life. It is called "Hopes and Dreams" and it is becoming a symbol of that wild and dramatic era.

The question before the house today is, will our stately Courthouse and the park that surrounds it survive this latest tribulation in good shape? We won't have an answer for that as soon as we'd like, but let us all hope and pray that there is still enough interest in history in this blessed land that such icons will remain with us.

More will follow very soon on this sensitive but important issue.