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Nowata, OK

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: April 7, 1899 | Abandoned: N/A
Status:
Photojournalist: Billy DixonDavid LindeJohnny FletcherEmily CowanBrad Grissom

Located twenty-one miles South of the Kansas state line, sits the city of Nowata. The origin of the name comes from two theories, one being that it is a derivative of the Delaware Tribe word no-we-ata, meaning “welcome.” Another theory tells of a traveler finding a dried-up spring with a sign reading”No Wata”. Its history starts in 1868 when Chief Charles Journeycake, a Christian Indian Chief of the Delaware Tribe, purchased a section of land from the Cherokee Nation. The first business was a small trading post established by Fred Metzner, a German immigrant. He had supplies of general merchandise needed for those traveling through and was soon thereafter appointed the postmaster of the town. The post office was established on November 8, 1889, he held that position for several years. He then employed a surveyor to lay out the town lines, this was the birth of Nowata. He took pride in making it the most beautiful town in the territory investing a few hundred dollars into having catalpa trees planted. A second store was built by W.V. Carvey and J.E. Campbell.

Nowata’s population hit a growth spurt just before 1904 when Congress decided to establish Indian Courts of Affairs within the territory towns. Chief Charles Journeycake went to Washington, D.C., where he represented the Delaware Tribe and won a court for Nowata. That same year oil and gas were discovered and deemed the “world’s largest shallow oil field” some of those still functioning today. Unlike other boomtowns the boom of Nowata lasted much longer, surviving the Great Depression and reaching a high of 4,270 in 1980. From 1914-1948 Nowata was the southern terminus for the Union Electric Railway.

Nowata has been the setting for a movie in 1997 when the sports film Possum was filmed in the town. Nowata County Historical Museum can also be visited having twenty-one rooms to display different historical themes that depict the history of the town. Another historic attraction you can visit is the Glass Mansion a 1900s-era four-story home with period furnishings.

Visitors Chapel A.M.E. Church

Built: 1936 Abandoned: 2006

Construction on the Visitors Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was started and the cornerstone was laid on September 13, 1936, at 3 p.m. The stone states Rev. N.L. Bentley as the Pastor and also lists the names, Joe Daniels TR. and Perlie J.E. Lee SE. The event was a real home-style event with old fashion barbeque and refreshments, everyone invited. In order to raise funds to complete the new church, a special service was held on February 7, at 7:30 p.m. The architecture represents a vernacular-style church presenting a gable roof over the sanctuary with a stucco wall finish.

Records of the former pastors available show Rev. N.L. Bentley when it first opened, Rev. B.B. Sutton around 1953, Rev. R.S. Smith around 1957, throughout the 1960s Rev. Noah Roland and Rev. J.C. Williams around 1982. Sunday School was held at 9:45 a.m., morning worship at 11 a.m., and evening service at 7:30 p.m. According to former member John Martin who attended as a child, there was a Cub/Boy Scout unit at the church as well that would meet on Thursday nights at 6:30 p.m.

According to some of the former members, it seemed to never have more than thirty persons in the congregation at any given time in the church’s later years. The only thing left with a date on it was a program from Sunday morning July 9, 2006. The morning message was delivered by Rev. James A. Towers, an Associate Minister of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Lawton, OK. It can only be assumed that the decline in members is what caused the church to close.

Savoy Hotel

Built: 1909 Abandoned: 2000s

The Savoy Hotel was a magnificent grand structure for architectural standards back then and even now. Constructed in 1909 the elegant hotel boasted sixty-two rooms, a telegraph office, billiards, dining room, pantry, and a kitchen. Being as Nowata was a prominent oil boom town with a higher population turnout than most boomtowns reaching over 2,000 just before the hotel was built. This made a majority of travelers that stayed at the hotel businessmen and workers of the oil and gas industry.

Shortly after being built the patrons of the hotel created a ball team, most had experience with Eastern college teams. The Savoy was soon after sold in 1912 for a price of $85,000 to J.P. Hyatt and the general manager Floyd Dyer would retain his position. It wasn’t but a year later that the ownership changed again to J.R. Cruff after he traded J.P. Hyatt 9,000 acres of land in Texas for the hotel. It was under his ownership that the Savoy really took off, in 1915-16 when radium water was discovered from a well drilled in the town. Talks of health benefits, anti-aging properties and other advantages circulated the town. It was announced that if the citizens could raise $2,000 the owner of the Savoy Hotel would turn the establishment into a bathhouse. The bathhouse had the latest and most modern apparatus with bathing experts in charge. The mineral baths could allegedly heal rheumatism, stomach trouble, malaria, nervous trouble, and skin diseases.

In the 1920s the building fell into multiple hands, including Messrs A.A. and Henry K. Then onto F.E. Crandall who was responsible for giving the hotel $15,000 worth of refurnishing and decorations. Onto N.O. Tate in 1925 who installed 16 & 8-inch electric fans in the dining area. For a short period in the 1940s, the third floor of the Savoy Hotel was used as a temporary hospital during the ongoing battle to have their own county hospital built, the enterprise ended in 1946.

Throughout its life as a functioning establishment, it was bought, sold, and renovated numerous times. Unfortunately with the declining population and tourism of the town, the hotel was officially abandoned in the early-mid 2000s. The most recent go at renovating the defunct hotel being around 2009 when the ‘Save the Savoy!’ was launched by the owner Jay Mitchell. A lot of work had gone into constructing an entire new roof on the building but tragedy struck the project when a lone construction worker fell 40 feet from the roof. He was discovered by a passerby and taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. A lawsuit was later filed for $75,000 in damages by the deceased family. Since then work has not been done on the historic hotel leaving it to sit and deteriorate.

Nowata Church of God In Christ 

Built: 1915 Abandoned:~2000

This church in Nowata has been an icon to photographers and travelers for many years, with its stature and glow despite being abandoned. A lot don’t know the significance the church has had for more than a century in the African-American community though. This vernacular-style wooden church was constructed in 1915 as the Second Missionary Baptist Church for the growing African American community in Nowata. Featuring a central tower built into the gable with a weatherboard wall finish and a pyramidal-shaped roof. Representing the architectural look of the First Baptist Church (Colored) in Anadarko.

The only record I could find of previous Pastors was Rev. A.L Hearne in 1963. Services included Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11:30 a.m., Evening Worship at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday Service at 7 p.m., and lastly Thursday Prayer and Bible Band at 7 p.m.

Over the years the name has changed numerous times some call it the “Holiness Church” others know it as the “Nowata Church of God In Christ”. While definite records of when the church was closed could not be found, it was still in service as of 1997 and the rate of deterioration looks to be about 15-20 years.

Rex Theatre

Built: 1920 Status: Endangered

Rex Theatre ca. Unknown

The name ‘Rex Theatre’ has been prominent throughout Nowata since the 1910s, being a source of entertainment for the traveling businessmen and workers of the oil field. But this building was constructed by J.B. Crouch, finished in February of 1920, a state of the art facility that the community would put to great use. Geo. E. Shilkett the owner who oversaw the project spared neither time nor money in making it the best theatre in the state. The seating capacity of the show house was around 650-700 guests, with steam heating and electricity. The interior had blue ceilings, the upper sidewalls a beige color, and the bottom of the walls red. Props inside included a lady sitting on a large seashell with angels on both sides, the seashell draped in pink roses, above the orchestra pit and was an elegant piece of work done by Bob Ralston, of Oklahoma City. The stage decorations and curtains were described as works of art and were painted by Ralston & Ford, of Oklahoma City. The grand opening was held on February 23, 1920, with the opening play titled ‘Scandal’.

The Rex Theatre lasted well throughout the forties, fifties, and into the sixties. It is unclear as to the exact date of when the theatre shut down or why but it did become abandoned for a period of time. As of 2020, it is occupied by an auto body detailing shop, although it’s not obvious with a majority of the windows still boarded up from its time being abandoned.

Madden Colored School

Status: Gutted Abandoned: 1962

The exact date of the Madden (Colored) School being built is unknown. It is a single room schoolhouse constructed of native sandstone and served as an elementary school in Nowata County on the outskirts of town. Teacher Mrs. Birdie was last to teach students in the one room school building before its closure. The Madden School was ordered to close on July 6, 1962 by the State Board of Education due to low attendance. It was one of sixteen elementary schools ordered to close that year. The Alluwe School Board then had a public auction in October of that year accepted bids on the old school building and its fencing. Since then the school has been reclaimed almost entirely by nature, leaving only a stone shell behind and decades worth of memories.

Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Galleries Below




[accordions][accordion title=”Bibliography” load=”hide”]

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“2 Apr 1953, 2 – The Record-Democrat at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/509059105/?terms=visitors%2Bchapel%2Bame%2Bnowata.

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“26 Dec 1912, 1 – The Lenapah Post at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/606548286/?terms=savoy%20hotel%20nowata&match=1.

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“27 Sep 1997, 18 – The Daily Oklahoman at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/455165166/?terms=church%20of%20god%20in%20christ%20nowata%20cedar&match=1.

“29 Oct 1915, 3 – The Nowata Weekly Star-Times at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/606780606/?terms=j.r.%20cruff%20nowata&match=1.

“3 May 1957, 3 – Nowata Daily Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/596548419/?terms=visitors%2Bchapel%2Bame%2Bnowata.

“3 May 1957, 3 – Nowata Daily Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/596548419/?terms=visitors%2Bchapel%2Bame%2Bnowata.

“30 Nov 1924, 9 – Nowata Daily Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/665937773/?terms=savoy%20hotel%20nowata&match=1.

“31 May 1963, 4 – Nowata Daily Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/666630851/?terms=church%20of%20god%20in%20christ%20nowata%20cedar&match=1.

“4 Nov 1915, 6 – The Lenapah Post at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/606598566/?terms=savoy%20hotel%20nowata&match=1.

“5 Sep 1913, 1 – The Nowata Weekly Star-Times at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/606779573/?terms=j.r.%20cruff%20nowata&match=1.

“9 Jun 1961, 4 – Nowata Daily Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/602937122/?terms=visitors%2Bchapel%2Bame%2Bnowata.

“9 May 1912, 5 – The Lenapah Post at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/606547744/?terms=savoy%20hotel%20nowata&match=1.

“Image 10 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Nowata, Nowata County, Oklahoma.” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/resource/g4024nm.g4024nm_g071971916/?sp=10&r=0.066,0.854,0.159,0.123,0.

“Image 4 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Nowata, Nowata County, Oklahoma.” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/resource/g4024nm.g4024nm_g071971916/?sp=4&r=0.181,0.875,0.176,0.136,0.

“Rex Theater.” Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/28886.

“Worker Dies After Fall from Nowata Hotel Roof.” KOCO, 11 July 2013, www.koco.com/article/worker-dies-after-fall-from-nowata-hotel-roof/4294083#.

https://www.newspapers.com/image/631311841/?terms=madden%20school&match=1

https://www.newspapers.com/image/666696652/?terms=%22madden%20school%22&match=1

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Emily Cowan

Emily was brought into the Abandoned OK Team in December of 2019. “I’m not gonna lie I fangirled a bit. My first published post I was ecstatic, I felt like I finally had the right audience for my work. The opportunities that came with it made me love the website even more. I remember my first interview with a couple at Waukomis Christian Church. They had bought and restored the 1897 church and insisted on keeping the original sanctuary despite being advised on moving it. We talked with them for at least a good 40 minutes about the church, the abandoned Waukomis Middle School beside it, and the towns other disappearing buildings. They even rang the bell for us that has sat in the bell-tower for the last 120 something years ago. We could tell they were just as passionate about preserving Oklahoma’s dwindling history as we were. When interviewing people and hearing the first-hand stories and recollections of a place and seeing how a person connects to a building, it forms a connection between not only you and that person but yourself and that building.”

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