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Ponca City

Kay County, Oklahoma

Ponca City Hall is located at 516 E Grand, Ponca City, OK 74601.
Phone: 580-767-0339.


Soldani Mansion

Photo: The Soldani Mansion, circa 1925, located 819 E. Central Avenue, Ponca City. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Image by wikipedia username:Jeffrey Beall, 2013, creative commons [cc 3.0], accessed December, 2021.


Ponca City is a community with an agricultural history that has evolved over the years into a town center and a hub of economic activity. The evidence of this history is still represented in every corner of the City — through the museums, historic downtown, and nearby lakeside recreation areas. This planning process offers an opportunity for the community to remember its past, but, more importantly, to envision its future. While future actions are likely to build upon past endeavors, the success of the City in achieving its vision will largely depend on the manner in which residents address current challenges and opportunities.

From the Cherokee Outlet Land Run of 1893, B. S. Barnes founded a community that initially boomed to become the City of Ponca in 1899. The oil industry added to the original influx of people, allowing Ponca's population to explode during the first half of the 20th century. Since the oil industry boom, Ponca City has continued to grow by adding new jobs, but has largely remained engaged with the energy sector. Today, Ponca City seeks additional and innovative economic opportunities to be able to keep growing physically and, particularly, economically. Changes in the economy and available housing market, among other characteristics, carry implications that residents acknowledge must be addressed in order to remain successful in the future. [Ponca City Comprehensive Plan, ok-poncacity.civicplus.com, accessed December, 2021.]

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Neighborhoods

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The city of Ponca City [†] originated in 1893, following the Cherokee Outlet land run on September 16th of that year which opened the area to non-Native American settlement. The land comprising the Cherokee Outlet in what is now northwestern Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle, was given to the Cherokee tribe in 1828 by the federal government. Following the Civil War, as part of the Reconstruction Treaty of 1866, the Cherokee Nation conveyed the eastern one-third of the Outlet to the federal government for the purposes of relocating various other Native American tribes. The Cherokee tribe retained control of nearly six million acres of prime grassland in the remaining portion of the Outlet. This grassland became popular with cattlemen during the 1870s and 1880s for grazing purposes. The Cherokee tribe quickly began collecting grazing fees, allowing the Outlet to become a major economic support for the Cherokee government.

Despite the encroachment by cattlemen and others seeking to benefit from the area's natural resources, the Cherokee Nation retained ownership of the Cherokee Outlet until the early 1890s. In 1889, the Jerome Commission, a federally-authorized committee, began to negotiate with the various Native American tribes holding "surplus" lands in what is now western Oklahoma. Typically, the government considered as surplus any land remaining after each man, woman and child of the tribe received an allotment of 160 acres. After much discussion, the Cherokee tribe finally agreed to cede ownership of the six million acres of surplus land in the Outlet in exchange for $8.5 million. This action paved the way for the Cherokee Outlet land run of September 16, 1893.

Prior to the Cherokee Strip land run, Burton Seymour (B.S.) Barnes organized the Ponca Townsite Company in July 1893, after exploring the area and noting the presence of a natural spring and proximity to the existing railroad line. Making the run in a two-seater buggy, Barnes arrived at his anticipated townsite to find several people already on site. Securing their agreement to divide their claims into town lots, Barnes was successful in establishing a townsite. Within four days of the land run, the new townsite was surveyed and on September 21, 1893, the drawing for town lots began. With over 2,300 certificates sold, the drawing took two days. After the drawing, a mass meeting elected B.S. Barnes as mayor and W.E. McGuire as town clerk. Within sixty days of the land run, the town boasted a new two-room schoolhouse and one church.

Two other communities existed in the vicinity of the Ponca Townsite Company's new townsite, aptly called "New Ponca." Located about three miles north was the federal government townsite of Cross and, to the south, the Ponca Indian Agency, called Ponca by the federal government and White Eagle by locals. With a convenient ford across the Arkansas River, New Ponca quickly attracted many residents. Signifying its permanence, a post office for New Ponca was established on January 12, 1894. The post office officially changed the name of the community to "Ponca" on July 7, 1898 as the original Ponca post office, established in 1879 at the Ponca Indian Agency, changed its name to Whiteagle. On October 23, 1913, the name "Ponca City" was

By September 1894, New Ponca secured a rail connection from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Santa Fe) Railway Company, which previously only serviced the nearby community of Cross and the Ponca Indian Agency. This connection quickly spelled the doom for Cross as residents were induced to move to the thriving community of New Ponca. Cross continued to exist in some form until 1927 when the area was incorporated into the city limits of Ponca City.

Until about 1910, Ponca City was economically dependent on the surrounding agricultural community. For years, the famed 101 Ranch operated nine miles south of Ponca City. Established by George Washington Miller in about 1881, the ranch continued to flourish after Miller's 1903 death under the control of his wife, Molly, and three sons, Joe, Zack and George L. Miller. Covering 110,000 acres, the ranch was home to the renowned 101 Ranch Wild West Show which continued to operate until the late 1920s. Even after 1910 and the discovery of oil in the area, Ponca City served as an "important grain and flour shipping point." Through the early 1940s, the Ponca City Milling Company, owned by the Donahoe family, was considered one of the city's largest industries.

Oil production in the area around Ponca City began prior to 1909 with discoveries on the Ponca Indian Reservation south of town and, to the east, on the Osage lands. This attracted the attention of several Pennsylvania oilmen, most notably E.W. Marland and L. H. (Lew) Wentz. Both of these oilmen enhanced Ponca City by providing numerous employment opportunities and financing various civic improvements, such as Marland's Pioneer Woman Statue and Lew Wentz's Ponca City Educational camp. With large oil fields in the vicinity, including the Ponca, Burbank and Shidler fields, and many oil-related industries in the area, Ponca City has continued to thrive for decades.

One of the large oil-related developments in Ponca City of lasting economic importance was the location of E.W. Marland's immense refinery. The Marland Refining Company was taken over by the Continental Oil Company in 1929 when Marland's oil prowess hit the skids. By 1941, the Continental Oil Company employed 2,500 workers in Ponca City and the refinery was characterized as "the largest in the state and one of the most modern in the world." The name of the refinery had been changed to Conoco by that time, which operates today as Conoco-Phillips. By the mid-1930s, the Empire Oil and Refining Company, one of Henry L. Doherty plants, also operated a refinery in Ponca City, in addition to a host of smaller related industries.

Adapted from: Cynthia Savage, Architectural Historian, City of Ponca City, 2020, George and Margaret Miller House, nomination document, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed December, 2021.