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Brief history by Larry Briggs (February 2008)
The opening of the Bird Creek oil field and the completion of the northern section of the Midland Valley Railroad (also known as the Arkansas River Route) to Silverdale, Kansas, led to Sperry’s birth. In 1905 the Midland Valley Railroad Company established a flag station called Buehler at the present location of Sperry. Charles Buehler worked for the Creek and Indiana Oil Company which was developing several leases in the area. Mr. Buehler built a short spur at the flag station to accommodate two or three tank cars. *1
Sperry’s original location on Hominy Creek about one and one-half miles northeast of Buehler was plagued with constant flooding. The post office was established there May 17, 1902, in a general store built on Cherokee land that was later allotted to tribal member Fannie Ellis. William H. Carson had a ranching operation that included this property, and it has been confirmed that he was named first postmaster of Sperry at the Hominy Creek location. According to one old-timer, the name Sperry was suggested in honor of a Washington D. C. postal official. When word reached area residents of the impending railroad construction in 1905, plans were made to move the post office to the Buehler location. The exodus to Buehler began in 1906, and by 1907 the resulting trackside settlement was renamed Sperry. Robert A. Martin erected a frame building west of the railroad tracks to house the post office and a general store, and he became the first postmaster at the new location. The town well was also located on his property. The new town site began to build out from the intersection of four Cherokee land allotments; Henry Spybuck on the southeast, Henry Evans, a minor, on the northwest, Minnie Spybuck (later Tinker) on the southwest and Lucy Chisholm on the northeast. Railroad literature initially listed the town as Beulah (a misspelling of Buehler), and not until 1909 was the correct designation Sperry printed on railroad timetables.
Sperry’s rich military history dates to December 1861, when Union loyalists led by Creek chief Opothleyahola were scuttled into Kansas by a Confederate unit led by Col. D. H. Cooper, and comprised of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek troops, as well as five hundred or so Texas Cavalrymen. The skirmishes took place about two and one-half miles southeast of present-day Sperry in the Horseshoe Bend area of Bird Creek (86th St. North and Lewis Avenue). The battle was known by several names, including Caving Banks, Chustotalasah, High Shoals, Horseshoe Bend and Bird Creek.
In 1923, Col. Charles Taylor organized the first-ever high school ROTC unit in the state at Sperry High School. In 1924, he was instrumental in forming the Sperry unit of the Oklahoma National Guard (120th Ammunition Training Unit) in a brick building on East Main Street (the building was restored in 2000 by Larry Briggs). Guard unit members mustered out to WWII from this store front location in September 1940, but returned to a sprawling new WPA-built armory that had been dedicated in 1941 on the site of the old town baseball field. The armory building housed various military units until 1990, and in 1991 the complex was deeded to the Town of Sperry by Tulsa County commissioners. Town offices were immediately moved into the facility, where they have remained. In 2007, taxpayers funded a $500,000 remodel of the armory complex.
Cattle ranching and oil production dominated the rural areas surrounding early-day Sperry. The community was a typical oil boom town, teeming with rowdy cowboys, roughnecks and entrepreneurs. Tulsa Rig and Reel had a location in town, furnishing lumber, materials and construction services for wooden oil well derricks. The first brick buildings in town were constructed about 1912, next to steep-gabled false-fronted frame buildings along the Midland Valley Railroad right-of-way. In later years, brick storefronts were angled to parallel the southeast to northwest alignment of the railroad tracks, and wooden sidewalks disappeared in the late teens. Eight trains passed through Sperry daily in the teens and twenties, carrying oil, chemicals, cattle, freight and passengers.
In 1911 Washington Elementary School opened in a two-story brick facility on Main Street, one block west of the tracks. Area students previously had chosen from among Greenwood Chapel, Flat Rock, Blackburn, and Delaware schools. A new brick high school building was completed in 1922, on the site of the present campus, and in 1956, a modern elementary school was added nearby. Sperry’s present middle school was constructed on the site formerly occupied by the old high school after it was destroyed by fire in 1984. As of 2008, over 1300 students attend Sperry Schools, attesting to rapid growth in the lake region west of town.
On April 18, 1917, some ten years after arriving at the Midland Valley Railroad location, Sperry residents filed into the William McNeil Air Dome (movie theater) and finally voted to incorporate the town, the papers being filed on May 7 of that year. The muddy and narrow “Tulsa Road” was paved in 1920, featuring two right-angle turns, one in downtown Sperry, and the other a mile east of town at “Dead Man’s Corner”. The new two-lane concrete highway (now North Peoria Avenue and North Cincinnati Avenue) put an end to automobiles sinking to their axles in knee-deep mud.
Once dependent on wells for drinking water, Sperry residents got a taste of cool, clear Spavinaw water in 1926. City officials from Tulsa turned the first tap at a Sperry fire hydrant during a formal ceremony. One year later a natural gas pipeline was built into the bustling town, making use of the area’s vast gas reservoirs.
Although outhouses stood well into the nineteen-sixties, Sperry’s controversial new sewer system was constructed in 1956. That same year, a brand new Ford fire truck appeared in the homecoming parade, proudly driven by members of the volunteer fire department.
In the late nineteen-nineties, the railroad right of way was “abandoned” despite the efforts of many residents who were fighting to preserve the railroad. In 2006 the rails and crossties were removed, and the 100 foot wide right-of-way was transformed into the Osage Trail, a scenic jogging, cycling, and equestrian path stretching from Tulsa to Skiatook. The trail is under control of the Tulsa County Parks Department.
Larry Briggs (February 2008)
*1 History of Tulsa, by C. B. Douglas 1921
This page was last updated on 03/16/13
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