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Perkins City

Perkins City Hall is located at 110 North Main Street, Perkins, OK 74059; phone: 405-547-2445.

Beginnings [1]

An application was filed on May 17, 1889, for a land grant covering the town site of Cimarron. On December 13 of that same year another application was filed to change the name of the nascent town to Italy because of the citizens' concerns of it being confused with the nearby town of Cimarron City. The town received its permanent name of "Perkins" on July 10, 1890; it was named for Bishop Walden Perkins, who was a congressman from Kansas. Lands in the Perkins area were bought from the government at the price of $1.25 per acre. Lots in the townsite soon were sold and improved on. This proved to be the beginning of a growing and prosperous community. In fact, Perkins could serve as a case study for the founding of town sites in Oklahoma Territory.

Like many small rural communities, Perkins faced its share of early setbacks. For instance, it lost its bid for the county seat to Stillwater. Also, led by one of its most prominent businessmen, William A. Knipe, it struggled with Stillwater for the A & M College in 1891. It lost the college only to find out that it would gain importance, due to the Iowa lands being opened for white settlement. In May, 1891 Congress passed a resolution to open the Iowa and Sac and Fox reservations, located immediately south of Perkins, for settlement by whites. The local paper, "The Perkins Gateway" ran a story which called on the people of the town to build a bridge by donating their time and labor. A small map was circulated along with the paper to exemplify how this bridge would be the "Gateway" to the newly opened lands since there was no other across the Cimarron River. In May, the citizens, led by William A. Knipe, voted to approve the construction of the bridge, and it was completed on September 1, 1891. A ceremony honoring its dedication was held for the 740 foot long, one lane bridge, at which time two queens, one white and one Indian, were named. This symbolized the joining of the two lands. By 1893, Perkins was known as the Queen City of the Cimarron.

In 1895 Perkins became a pioneer in another business when it began Payne County's first telephone service. It started in April of that year as the Tecumseh, Chandler and Guthrie Telephone Company, but was bought out by Perkins investors and became the Perkins Telephone Company. The first telephone was placed in the general store. By 1896 the line reached to the next county, and just two years later, in 1898, the telephone line connected Perkins with nine other communities.

In 1897 the bridge crossing the Cimarron River was swept away by floodwaters. However, this did not deter the Perkins city officials as they allotted the appropriate monies for the building of a ferry so that citizens both far and near would not be inconvenienced. By the end of the year, a 900- foot wooden truss bridge was completed. It was the largest in that part of the state and was located on the main overland route from Arkansas City, Kansas, to Perkins and thence into Indian Territory. It was utilized by many looking to settle in Oklahoma. The bridge was later rebuilt with steel in 1905 and was the best of its kind across the Cimarron. Another great celebration was held with William A. Knipe leading the festivities. A new bridge queen was chosen and Governor Ferguson was present to give a dedication speech.

In 1899, Perkins' prominent citizens led a drive to bring the Eastern Oklahoma Railway to the community. This would further develop the central business district. On January 2, 1900, the first train arrived at the Perkins depot, which was located on the south bank of the Cimarron River. Not only did this bring prominence to the town and its commercial district, but also it increased the importance of the Cimarron bridge as a passageway. The railway began at Guthrie and wound through several towns, including Stillwater, Glencoe, Ripley, and Perkins. It contributed to employment for many men in the area as they secured positions as section hands for track maintenance. The railway brought many business prospects to Perkins, and by June, 1900, the depot was responsible for shipping numerous carloads of cattle, hogs, wheat, flour, and cottonseed.

The presence of the railroad also aided in the beginning of some of the earliest motorized transportation in the Perkins area. It first began with five or six cars, which drove patrons to their desired destination. The majority of their business came from passengers exiting the train who needed a ride into Perkins or Stillwater. In September 1919, an eight passenger bus and five additional vehicles were purchased, and the business became known as the Perkins Bus and Livery Line. By October, the business was offering two daily routes between Perkins and Stillwater, which coincided with the train schedule for the convenience of the passengers. This motorized transportation system provided a modern link for the surrounding communities to easily access Perkins, which contributed to the growth of the business district and the area surrounding Perkins.

Despite setbacks that Perkins faced, including losing the college and county seat to Stillwater and fires in the downtown district in 1913 and 1916, the commercial business area has maintained its historic commercial significance. Like many agricultural towns in Oklahoma, it faced a uphill battle during the depression of the 1930s as businesses struggled for survival. However, Perkins was able to retain a degree of its prosperity and remains a viable commercial district today. This district, containing twelve contributing resources, is situated between Thomas and Stumbo Streets in the 100 block of Main Street. The character and historical significance of this commercial district have been well maintained and are representative of the development of the town during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  1. Rebecca Watkins, consultant, Perkins Downtown Historic District, Payne County, OK, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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