Picher, OK

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City/Town: Picher
Location Class: Disappearing Town
Year Built: 1918
Year Abandoned: 2009
Status: AbandonedDisappearing Town
Photojournalist: Billy DixonDavid LindeJohnny Fletcher

Located eight miles north of Miami on U.S. Highway 69 in Ottawa County, Picher is Oklahoma’s most northeastern incorporated city. Its city limits adjoin the Kansas state line. In late 1913 the town developed around the lead and zinc ore strike on Harry Crawfish’s allotment. Picher’s name honored O. S. Picher, owner of the Picher Lead Company. Statewide newspapers reported that the town was born overnight. Picher incorporated in March 1918. It had a population of 9,726 in 1920, which peaked at 14,252 in 1926, at the height of mining. As mining activity decreased, the population dropped steadily to 5,848 in 1940 and to 2,553 in 1960.

Picher was the most productive mining field in the Tri-State Lead and Zinc District (Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri) and produced more than $20 billion in ore from 1917 to 1947. Over 50 percent of the lead and zinc metal consumed in World War I came from the Picher Field. During the mining boom years more than fourteen thousand men worked in its mines, and another four thousand worked in approximately fifteen hundred mining service businesses. Many of these workers commuted to work using an extensive trolley car system that ran all the way to Carthage, Missouri. In the subsequent years Picher could not attract new industry, because a majority of the real estate belonged to restricted Quapaw heirs and because the town had many mines distributed underneath the surface.

O. S. Picher provided the city’s first deep water well, thereby providing the beginning of a municipal water system. The leasing system employed for mining dictated that an ore reduction mill be built on each forty-acre tract. In 1927 there were 248 mills operating in the Picher Field, and this continued until the late 1930s when centralized milling resulted in mill consolidation. When lead and zinc mining finally ceased in 1967, pumping water from the mines ceased and they began to fill with water, accumulating 76,800 acre-feet of mine water under ground. This contaminated water began to seep from the mines in 1973. In 1983 the Picher area became part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Site program. With 1,400 mine shafts in the Picher area, 70 million tons of waste tailings, and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge, environmental clean up was a monumental task.

In 2008, The EPA finished the clean up of the Superfund site. This was done by a mixture of buyouts, chat sales, on-site disposals, rural residential yard contamination cleanup, soil cleansing, and rural residential well sanitization. Overall totaling over one hundred and sixty million dollars before it was completed. Those who were willing to be bought out did so. Those who stayed behind were supplied with alternative ways to utilizing the wells that were contaminated. Additionally, “chat” that had once been piled on top of the soil was put back into the mines to support the land and reduce human exposure to lead dust.

After all of the work that was completed to make the town livable again, an F4 tornado came through the town of Picher on May 10, 2008. The tornado tragically took the lives of six people and injured at least one-hundred and fifty others.

In May of 2009 The Picher-Cardin school systems hosted its final graduating class & on July 1st the 90 year old district closed its doors forever.

Today, all that can be seen in the town is overgrown house foundations, and a few remaining buildings, which are now crudely spray painted as government property.

Other Links:

Fredas Cook, a long time resident, has put together a great database of history and pictures. For a lot of great information about Picher and Cardin, visit his siteHere.

Liked it? Help AOK take action to save some of these places on Patreon! Donations will help fund clean ups, securing of buildings and hopeful restorations as we work with the owners who want to bring them back to life.
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[…] than a 100 years ago the town of Picher in Oklahoma was a mining boomtown producing more than $20 billion in lead and zinc ore from 1917 to […]

Hector
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Hector

hehe
🙂

Marian Watson
Guest
Marian Watson

When was the tornado? My great grandmother, Ellen Teague was blown away in a tornado in 1942.

Elizabeth Garner
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Elizabeth Garner

Skyler, where did you move to? Sorry you had to leave.

🙁

Patti Jillson
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Patti Jillson

My birth name is Elizabeth Grace Garner, and I was born in Picher Dec 28, 1943. My brother, Charles Theodore Garner was also born in Picher, May 8, 1942. When our mom left, she took the train to Herlong, Ca, and changed our names so as not to be found by our biological father. The man who raised us was Wayne Allen Pratt. Nov 3, 1948 our youngest brother was born. His name was Wayne Joseph Pratt. When we started school, my brother and I went by Chuck and Patty Pratt. When Chuck was 18, he joined the NAVY. When… Read more »

Melissa
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Melissa

My family and I lived in pitcher for a few years when my husband worked for the EPA cleaning up the area. I am from the northeast and I never met such nice welcoming people then the people I met in Pitcher. We lived in many areas in the US and I will never forget this wonderful town and it's people. Such a shame but it won't be forgotten

Oklahomo
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Oklahomo

It actually looks like it was a nice little town. (Nicer than the one I grew up in around Western OK). The PBS documentary was really good. Shocking how those huge lead piles surrounded the town and the children there "couldn't learn". The craziest part were the old folks who refused to leave! I have to assume they were already brain damaged from the lead, because staying in a ghost town full of poison makes zero sense. Sure you have memories there, but make new ones somewhere else! :-O

Dale Brown
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Dale Brown

y great grandmother's obituary appeared on the front page of a Picher Newspaper (?) The obit is very very old and the last line of the headline reads ….LEADER. Interesting comments from that obit state Olive Cully took flight to the Heavenly Father at 1:45 pm….Mrs. Olive Cully came to Picher with her former husband, Mr. Avery, and when he died, as a young widow, she continued to look after their property and conducted a millinery store which she still operated at her death. After Avery's death,Olive married J. G. Cully who survived her, along with two daughters – Mrs.… Read more »

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paula termain
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paula termain

just wanting to find out if the properties in picher are for sale?

Jim martin
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Jim martin

Not from Picher, of even Oklahoma at all. But, it makes me sick to see you guys having to pull up stakes and leave. The whole area, from the photos looks sad from it happening. I really hope and pray that each and every one from there has gone on to become happy and successful in all of their endeavors.

Joeseph Parker
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Joeseph Parker

I had a good friend who ran a junk store and later moved to Miami and worked at the college named Harry Kelso, If anyone has heard from him please let me know.

paul parks
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paul parks

I can remember as a a young boy maybe six or seven in the late forty living in commerce ok I can remember playing in chat piles one time myself and another boy finding a hole like a cave in chat we went inside not very long didn't realize how dangerous this was I can remember the eagle pitcher mine just outside commerce had a tree overdrive back to main office my dad worked there he said the dust was to much for him so we moved back to indiana had uncles who worked more than thirty years in the… Read more »

Mike
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Mike

They have this twon featured on Netflix show i beleive called “Abandoned” its a neat program.

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Tammy Downing Butler
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Tammy Downing Butler

When i was young i would spend my summer's at my grandmother's house in Picher.she lived right next to the chat piles.This was in the 60's and early 70's.Her name was Mary Seliversmith.I have good memory's of Picher,Oklahoma.

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