Monday, December 8, 2008

Tulsa's Oldest House

Cross-posted from Tulsa Architectural History.

This is the oldest surviving house in Tulsa. It belonged to Reverend Sylvester Morris, a Methodist missionary, who founded many churches in and around Tulsa, including St. Paul's Methodist on Cherry Street. This house was built in the mid 1880s (the Tulsa Historical Society says 1885). Given that the railroad didn't arrive until 1882, that makes this house pretty early. The house is a simple framed building in the "Folk Style". It was originally located in the 400 block of North Cheyenne. It was moved to Owen Park in 1976, after being discovered by the local historian Beryl Ford. Sadly it is in an extremely neglected condition, with the windows and doors boarded over. As the picture at the Tulsa Preservation Commission website shows, when it was first moved, it still had doors and windows. Perhaps Owen Park is not the best place for this monument. The "new" building for the Tulsa Historical Society or Gilcrease Museum are two possible locations that would be better suited.

Ford identified the building, in part by, the unusual chimney. He also reportedly found letters addressed to Morris in the walls of the building. This picture shows the Morris family on the back porch of the house. Although the house in this picture has obvious similarities to the house in Owen Park, I find it interesting that the side door pictured here is nowhere in evidence in the Owen Park house. The missing door, however, could have easily been boarded over in the intervening years. (Photo provided courtesy of Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.)

The Reverend Morris story had a sad end. In 1907, while returning home late one evening, two lawmen mistook him for a whiskey peddler. The lawmen called for him to stop, but either the elderly man did not hear them, or thought that they were highway robbers, and did not stop. The lawmen fired seven shots, two of which struck Morris, killing him. The horses, knowing the way, continued home, bearing the the pioneer's corpse. The killing caused a furor in Tulsa. The two marshals were indicted for murder, but were eventually acquitted.

Here's a final picture of the backside of the house. Thanks to my brother, for acting as my photo slave.

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