Story and images provided by Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar
Everyone has their favorite summertime memories. No matter where you grew up, the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar’s new “Summertime Fun” exhibit will make you smile. With something for everyone, the exhibit features Stillwater’s lakes, parks, pools, movie theaters, and other summertime hang-outs.
In the early years of Stillwater’s existence, summer entertainment options were limited. Most traveling entertainment groups skipped Stillwater due to its lack of access from the main railroads, but as the town grew, so did its entertainment options.
Oklahoma A&M brought new life to Stillwater, but the first students still had few recreational activities available to them. In the early years, a few Chautauqua groups would arrive during the summer and perform. Often they were in tents on the courthouse lawn, and once they performed along the water hole surrounded by trees at the edge of campus, where the Student Union now stands.
The Stillwater Opera House was designed with great vision by partners Louis Jardot and James Blouin. It opened on July 1, 1901 and was the third largest theater in Oklahoma at the time, with around 800 seats. The opera house hosted a variety of local traveling bands, as well as some plays, but was mainly used as a community center. It was still hard for Stillwater to attract popular traveling acts without direct railroad access. In 1913, the opera house was renamed the Hollywood, and it shifted its focus to early silent movies. Unfortunately, it was quickly out surpassed by more modern movie houses around town.
A need for water brought even more recreation opportunities to Stillwater. In 1924, a plan was created to dam Boomer Creek to solve the city’s water issues. Due to ongoing drought conditions water did not flow over the new spillway until April 12, 1927, bringing relief to Stillwater and the creation of Boomer Lake. However, there was still not enough regular water flow for the city and an emergency water supply site was sought. This resulted in the building of Lake Carl Blackwell west of Stillwater, which was started in 1935 and was dedicated in 1938. The building of Lake McMurtry followed in the 1970s as Stillwater’s population continued to grow. This lake served Stillwater in multiple ways, including greater water access, flood control, and recreation. Stillwater’s lakes now boast vast recreational options, including walking trails, camping, fishing, boating, and hunting. Most of these recreation facilities would not exist today if it were not for Stillwater’s water shortages over the years.
The City of Stillwater played a central role in area recreation through the operation of recreation areas and parks, including a number of community playgrounds and a golf course. By the 1950s, the city was sponsoring summer youth sports leagues and playground programs, and today they work with a variety of community partners to continue providing summer activities in area parks. No matter what your age, everyone loves the Boomer Blast Fireworks Show celebrating Independence Day.
Other summertime fun spots in Stillwater were privately owned, such as Crystal Plunge Pool, which operated as Stillwater’s primary pool from 1928-1969. Thousands of families visited the pool each summer. Today the municipal pool, which opened in 1973, resides in Couch Park, which was once the home of the Payne County Fairgrounds. Yost Lake was also developed into a Country Club for Stillwater residents starting in 1901.
Movie Theaters became popular summertime recreation spots because they were some of the earliest businesses to have air conditioning, often advertised as “cooled by refrigeration” in the early days. Theaters offered a break from the sweltering summer sun, and people of all ages streamed into movie houses to beat the heat and enjoy the latest Hollywood spectacle. The town also featured a roller skating rink, bowling alleys, and other neighborhood hang outs, including a Tastee Freeze and the first Top Hat restaurant to become a Sonic.
The Stillwater History Museum has a large photograph collection which helped to inspire this exhibit. It will also feature the newly restored opera house model completed last year, artifacts from the Leachman Theater, and other Stillwater memorabilia. The exhibit will open on June 14, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. and will remain on display through November 2018.
The Stillwater History Museum is open to the public Tuesday – Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is always free and it is a great place to cool off while remembering summer days gone past.
The museum will also be hosting its annual Cool Classics concert series every Friday night in July beginning at 7:30 in the Sheerar Auditorium. To learn more about our current exhibit and upcoming programming visit sheerarmuseum.org or stop by the Museum located at 702 S. Duncan Street.