Prairie Legends

April 11, 2006
Filed under Destinations

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There are secrets that should be kept and there are those that need to be revealed.
Bartlesville, Oklahoma, falls into that latter category. Like an island in a vast sea of
bucolic hills, Bartlesville and its surrounding areas represent a microcosm of America’s
transition over the past 150 years. Today, Bartlesville has become an upscale, cultured,
sophisticated community, where fine eateries, shops and a diverse menu of attractions
prevail. However, this town that Frank Phillips built also offers interesting historical
perspective, and a host of opportunities for those who come visiting. Located 40 minutes
northeast of Tulsa, on the edge of the Osage Hills, Bartlesville has the only skyscraper
that Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed and built: the Price Tower. The mid-1950s saw the
personal hands-on touch of Wright coordinating not only the building of this structure, but
also the designing of the murals inside, and even the office furniture. Today, daily tours
are conducted of the “prairie skyscraper.” Using what he called “organic architecture,”
Wright’s high-rise building reflects how in nature a tree would actually grow. The Tower
has a deep and massive center, like the trunk and roof of a tree. Its foundation penetrates
deep into the earth, while the 18 floors above cantilever out perpendicular to the center
like the branches and boughs of a giant tree. Covered with adjustable copper vanes that
control the effects of the sun and wind, the Price Tower is a visual oxymoron, a feature on
a landscape that appears as though it should not be there. As with other captains of
American industry, oil baron Frank Phillips came from humble beginnings. Born in Iowa and
not wanting to be a farmer, he decided to be a barber and, as luck would have it, he
married the banker’s daughter (his barber shop was in the basement of the bank). As a
financier, Phillips headed to Oklahoma Territory where, at the turn of the century, he
began financing oil exploration. He was down to the last of his cash (he had train tickets
in his pocket so he and his wife could leave town if this last well didn’t produce — there
had been several of those — when he hit the Anna Anderson, a gusher that put Frank
Phillips and Phillips Petroleum on the map. Following the Anna Anderson, Phillips had 81
straight gushers that made him a multi-multi millionaire, virtually overnight. The boon
that followed meant that Bartlesville and the northern Oklahoma landscape would never be
the same again. Over the decades, Phillips Petroleum and today ConocoPhillips have put
millions of dollars back into the community. A city of 35,000 people, Bartlesville today is
one of the few cities of its size to have its own symphony orchestra, choral society and
ballet company. Each year, the week-long Oklahoma Mozart International Festival draws
performers and audiences from around the world. A visit to Bartlesville is not complete
without touring the Frank Phillips home on Cherokee Avenue. It’s a showplace of early
20th-century opulence and luxury. The library has a fake bookcase that opens so the family
could hide inside, if necessary. Remember, this was a time when kidnappings such as the
Lindberg baby were taking place, and security was a concern for the wealthy. On the second
floor of the Phillips’ home is the girls’ bedroom. At a New York City orphanage Frank and
Jane found and adopted a little girl, but she wouldn’t go with them unless they also
adopted her little sister — which they did. They also had one natural son. Frank Phillips
also had a much more macho side to his personality. In order to host the business tycoons
of the world — including three American Presidents — and a host of famous (as well as
infamous) people, Phillips wanted his own unique retreat. He created a 3,700-acre sanctuary
that included a guest lodge, a wild-animal preserve and a museum that houses a fine
collection of Western art and memorabilia. Called Woolaroc (woods, lakes and rocks) this
private playground includes exotic animals and a herd of American bison. All of this is
open to the public for a nominal fee. Events such as the Mountain Men Camp are held here
each year. Operated as a foundation, the mission of the non-profit Woolaroc is to guarantee
that future generations will be able to enjoy what Frank Phillips created. The best and
quickest way to totally immerse yourself and get quickly orientated in the captivating
northern Oklahoma venue of Bartlesville is by visiting the Bartlesville Area History
Museum, located downtown. Here, a timeline, replete with artifacts and photos depicting the
Bartlesville area history from the early days of the Plains Indians (Delaware and Osage)
followed next by the Cherokees and then the arrival of the cattlemen and the Oklahoma Land
Rush, are nicely portrayed. The state’s moniker, The Sooner State, gets draws its roots
from those settlers who, in 1889, jumped the gun and staked out their homesteads before
Oklahoma Territory was officially opened. The discovery of oil followed in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, a period in which the number of oil companies grew in a matter of
days from only two to more than 200 — with Phillips climbing to the top to become king of
the mountain. The docents at the museum also point out (from the second-floor museum) the
saloon where Bonnie and Clyde visited, and discuss the love spat they had while in
Bartlesville. Five minutes north of Bartlesville, in Dewey, is the home of silent movie
star Tom Mix, a real-life cowboy who, after being discovered, made almost 350 movies. The
Tom Mix Museum presents a treasure trove of items from his days as a town marshal, and his
successes at busting moonshiners. Just across the street is the turn-of-the-century, fully
restored Dewey Hotel. Dewey has also become a Mecca for antique shops (a total of eight
large antique stores) and one that includes an authentic soda fountain, called Linger
Longer, where the ice-cream delights are excellent. East of Dewey is an attraction that
Kenneth and Marilyn Tate have been working on for the last couple of decades. They have
recreated an entire town that is right out of the late 1800s. Consisting of a jail, a
store, a post office, a hotel, a saloon, a schoolhouse and a chapel, the town has been
given the name Prairie Song because of the soft sounds made by the tall prairie grass
waving in the breeze, and the singing birds. Beautiful native grasslands surround Prairie
Song, giving it an authentic flavor of how an Oklahoma town might have looked in the late
1800s. From eclectic skyscrapers to a world-class retreat to the gentle crooning of the
song of the prairie, it’s no wonder that RVers may find themselves returning to the
Bartlesville area year after year. Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce, (877) 273-2007, href="http://visitbartlesville.com" target="_blank">visitbartlesville.com.

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