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February 24, 2004

Will T. Little was a man 'way ahead of his time in the land run
Land for the Noble County Courthouse was designated by the U.S. government when the Cherokee Outlet was opened to non-Indian settlement on Sept. 16, 1893. Perry was to be the county seat. However, construction of a courthouse was a low priority matter of business. There were other matters with more urgent need, like water lines, streets, sidewalks, electrical service, sewage collection and disposal, and other such things. All of those had to be started before such niceties as a courthouse building could be considered.

The so-called Central Park tract was the logical location for the seat of county government, but years passed before the present three-story stone structure could be undertaken. It was to be on a five-acre plat in the heart of the business district. It was reserved by the Federal Government for that purpose. The Post office, a crude, one-story frame building, also was planted in the park. Many residents of Perry thought the site was ugly and probably unusable.

For one thing, the east portion of the park formerly served as a buffalo wallow. Before non-Indians were granted deeds, animals moved freely through the area, some of them being driven to the market for Eastern diners. The park area also was rough land for years after the last green growth was devoured by herds of animals. Soon after the run of Sept. 16, a U.S. Land Office building was located in the park and hundreds of early settlers waited there in long lines to register their claims. Some of the pioneers said a fixed cloud of dust hung over the park for weeks and months, stirred up by riders mounted on horses, and wagons behind mules and other draft animals. All of this added to the aura of an untamed land where civilized folks were endeavoring to create a new home on the prairie.

Thanks to Mr. Will Little, an environmentalist years ahead of his time, the land soon was converted, at least visually, to something resembling a park. Mr. Little approached the city council with a plan to plant hundreds of elm tree seedlings in the area, with the provision that he could harvest some of the trees as they matured and plant them in school yards and in designated areas around the county. The trees in the Courthouse Park today, with their abundant crop of green leaves and cooling breezes in the summer, are a tribute to his farsightedness, even though only a few of the trees he planted are still in existence. Thanks to an underground water source, the park has been kept lush despite the intense July-August heat and the drought that usually accompanies that stifling weather. Few people today know about Mr. Little and his dedication to the preservation of our land, but he should be saluted at least yearly in some manner.

We'll have more on the subject of our Courthouse Park in a few days.

This rarely seen photograph gives us an aerial view of the courthouse park as it appeared after Will T. Little planted hundreds of elm tree seedlings to help reduce the cloud of dust hanging over the barren area. The photo was made into a postcard with the line "Central Park Perry, Okla." in the upper left corner. Also shown at right but barely visible through the trees is the original two-story frame courthouse building. This view is from the southeast looking to the northwest. (Photo from Fred G. Beers collection.)