Story by Roger Moore, photos courtesy of the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History
For much of the summer, motorists entering Stillwater from the east on Highway 51 experienced a delay or two due to a massive construction project. Longtime residents, perhaps returning from a trip to construction-laden Tulsa, a weekend at Keystone Lake or various summer activities north and east of Stillwater, have probably had some time to ponder the life and history of Sixth Street where it meets Perkins Road. It is one of many “corners” in the Stillwater community that has gone through myriad changes since the early part of the twentieth century.
While flipping channels on the radio dial or increasing the level of air conditioning, sitting and waiting at the traffic light at Sixth and Perkins on a hot July afternoon, it is hard yet easy to imagine hanging out at Crystal Plunge, a swimming pool that opened for business in 1928. As late as the 1960s the area was still on the fringe of the community with Perkins Road only two lanes and home to minimal business activity. D. Earl Newsom’s 100 Years of Memories describes Crystal Plunge as being located “in the secluded area south of East Sixth Street in the shadow of Stillwater Milling Company.” A quick check of the invaluable Sanborn Maps from May of 1929 proves Newsom correct with Big Boomer Creek and Little Boomer Creek dominating the landscape east of Stillwater Milling Company. While Main Street was the hub of early Stillwater, the area between Couch Park and Sixth and Perkins has a history of its own.
Historians document William Couch finishing what David Payne started with the Boomers, bringing a small group to settle near Stillwater creek near what is now Couch Park just to the south of Twelfth Street a block or two east of Perkins Road which, obviously, was no road at the time. Just off Perkins on Ninth Street, perhaps the single most important happening in the growth of the community was the arrival of the railroad in 1900. It kept the growing college in town among other positive influences. Just to the north of the railroad depot, Crystal Plunge provided memories for a generation or two; a bicycle track added a few more.
Another staple in Stillwater, Cooper’s Cycle Center, ran a bicycle race track at the bottom of the hill on Ninth Street, just off Perkins. The bicycle crew of Coopers, still located on Main Street, also had motorcycles and a challenging BMX track that featured riders from around the state and the occasional Guy Cooper Evil Knievel-type jump of massive proportions off homemade ramps. It was fitting that Mr. Cooper would often start his death-defying approaches at the railroad tracks on the brick road next to the train depot on Ninth.
Now, while waiting for the light to turn green, looking south down Perkins Road from where it meets Sixth, they are just memories of a community that changes almost daily. Sixth and Perkins is just one of those corners where a gaze in any direction prompts stories and a local legend or two. Longtime residents might also remember a difference or two in the corners of Sixth and Main, Hall of Fame and Main, Perkins and McElroy, Lakeview and Boomer, Lakeview and Perkins, Country Club and HWY 51.
While waiting for traffic lights to turn green, residents of communities, I would hope, drift in and out of decades and what used to be where, of summers spent in various locales, of their community how it used to be. Very few “corners” remain of the original.
Perhaps the biggest change in Stillwater has occurred where the former McGeorge Avenue became Hall of Fame and eventually connected the developing Perkins Road to Main Street in the 1970s. Similar to Sixth and Perkins to the east, Stillwater’s north extreme all-but-ended at the current intersection of North Main and what is now Hall of Fame up until the 1950s. An indication as to the remoteness is easily achieved by what was located there from around 1949 to 1969, the Moonlite Drive-in theater. Its address was 515 N. Main – Food Pyramid currently calls 421 N. Main home – so everything to the north up to McElroy where longtime Stillwater staple Chuck’s Paint and Paper called home saw teenagers and their cars parked and watching movies for two decades.
After the drive-in moved out, another summertime favorite moved in, Putt-Putt miniature golf. Before video games ruled the day, all ages spent afternoons and evenings pushing those orange balls around the 18-hole miniature golf course. It was cheap, it was fun, and occupied many hours in July and August. Once finished, a short walk to Baskin Robbins ice cream for a single dip of Chocolate Chip in a waffle cone or maybe Red’s Deli for a sandwich … paradise.
A short walk to the south, around a trailer park and across what would become Hall of Fame Avenue, Strickland Park awaited. It was the hub of little league 10-and-under baseball. There were two fields and a summer schedule of games somewhere in the ballpark of 15 to 20 for a season, nowhere near the 60 to 70 of the current world of traveling teams. Strickland Park was packed for games in the early summer evenings. Before heading home, win or lose, families might stop at Safeway or the future Homeland for a carton of milk where the former Hastings Records and Tapes now sits empty.
Unfortunately, the corner of Hall of Fame and Main now includes difficult memories for locals. It takes little prompting while sitting at the intersection to remember Oklahoma State’s Homecoming tragedy in 2015. The annual parade, a Stillwater and OSU tradition since before World War I, was given added significance when a driver drove into a crowd of onlookers, killing four and injuring almost 50. Now, those who wait for green lights, while remembering Putt-Putt golf, or the Moonlite Drive-in, or 10-and-under baseball, add a tragic day to their memory banks.
These intersections, these corners, continue to change. To the north, A&W Root Beer at Lakeview and Boomer Road marked the “edge of town”; to the west anything beyond the old bridge just before Sangre Road was “the country”; the Sundowner or Mom’s Place represented the south of South Main; and Perkins Road, at Sixth Street and Highway 51 was where you “left Stillwater.” Fifty years from now, what intersection will you be sitting at when you remember what used to be there?