Wednesday, September 21 2022

Sent by an emergency meeting of concerned citizens in 1902, Dr. Sam Kennedy led a small group of Tulsa men into the dusty countryside in search of a team of surveyors.

News had come to town that the MKT Railroad was laying out a new route from southeast Kansas to Oklahoma City. And Kennedy’s men found the surveyors working 7 miles east of Tulsa, about where Mingo Road passes today.

Somehow they enticed the railroad employees to come to town, where a homemade feast was prepared in their honor.

“There was a lot of talk, the citizens of Tulsa doing almost everything,” according to the memoirs of JM Hall, a merchant who was one of the city’s early pioneers.

Tulsa had pushed along the Frisco Railroad in the 1880s. But now the city, with a population still under 2,000, wanted a second railroad to give it an edge over Sapulpa and other rival communities. .

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The MKT, however, saw no reason to go out of their way for such a small and relatively insignificant location. The surveyors had simply been instructed to lay out the most practical route for the construction of the new railway.

But after the Tulsa banquet, the crew suddenly became convinced that the most convenient route had just been through town. And they drew the railroad map accordingly.

Of course, when MKT executives heard about the unauthorized modifications, they fired the surveyors and returned their construction plans to the original route, bypassing Tulsa.

“Building their line on this investigation meant death for the beleaguered city,” Hall wrote in his memoir, published in 1927 as a book titled “The Beginning of Tulsa.”

Fortunately, “citizens weren’t ready to pass out or give up,” Hall reported.

Kennedy, a physician who had moved to Tulsa in 1891, led a delegation to St. Louis, where he managed to arrange a meeting with the railroad president.

Armed with the surveyors’ report, Kennedy argued that a route through the city would avoid steep grades and allow trains to travel more efficiently, according to “City on the Plains: A History of Tulsa,” written in 1972.

But George Mowbray, a retired Methodist minister who was part of Kennedy’s delegation, interrupted the discussion to try a different kind of persuasion.

Tulsa business leaders would give the railroad $12,000 and provide a right of way through town at no charge, he said.

It was not uncommon for railroads to receive financial incentives, but Mowbray’s offer seemed particularly generous for such a small town, according to “City on the Plains.”

The first MKT trains arrived in Tulsa a year later, followed by the Midland Valley Railroad in 1904, also after the city provided a cash incentive for the line extension. This is how Tulsa became a transportation hub just in time to capitalize on the Glenn Pool oil boom that began in 1905.

More than a century later, Tulsa still has to compete with rival communities. And financial incentives can still make a difference.

City councilors, for example, recently took the first steps toward creating a district to fund tax increases to bring a sporting goods store Scheels to the Woodland Hills mall.

More than just a store, a Scheels location includes aquariums, arcade games, indoor Ferris wheels and other attractions to create a “shopping destination” that can draw traffic hours away.

If it takes a few nudges to bring this kind of economic development to the city, Tulsa has already done it.

Tulsa World Scene Podcast: Blue Whale from Route 66 to Catoosa turns 50.

Grace Wood and James Watts preview upcoming Scene features including Catoosa’s 50th Anniversary Route 66 Blue Whale; migration of monarch butterflies; the last full ballet from Tulsa; and more.


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