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"The County that Washington Built" Exhibit Opens at the BAHM
By Tourism Industry Partner
The U.S. government established recording districts throughout the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory in the 1890s, of which Bartlesville was one. When the Enabling Act of the Twin Territories (Oklahoma and Indian Territory) was passed on June 16, 1906, coming statehood was a fore-gone conclusion and cities and towns of the area leapt into the race to become THE county seat while Bartlesville, with the distinction of Recording District, had ample confidence that their city would be awarded the coveted ranking of County Seat.
In December of 1906 the designation of counties was concluded and one county created, Washington, was the Old Cherokee Nation. As anticipated . . . Bartlesville was awarded this coveted status. Although the legislature had met and pronounced the decision, there was a three year waiting period. Voters had the last say in the decision but Bartlesville’s status remained once the legal waiting period expired.
Bartlesville businessmen immediately instigated efforts to issue a $150,000 bond to build a court house. However, the bond failed as voters felt it was far and above what a courthouse should cost. It took three attempts by the county commissioners before passage of a proposal was found acceptable to the voters. In April of 1912 a bond of $115,000 for acquiring both a building site and the construction of a building set everything into motion and Washington County was well on its way to a state-of-the-art court of law.
Some of the earliest history involved in initial construction of the building, reported in old newspaper accounts, included the woes of getting the building off the drawing board. First it was reported that the costs were; $94,750 which was UNDER the original price, later reports put the final cost at $125,000 and one designer charged with bribery. Errors found by the county commissioners and other problems with the first set of plans created road blocks that led to frustrations, revisions and one delay after another. In due course legal instruments were accepted and prolific courthouse architect P.H. Weathers of Oklahoma City, well known for building fireproof structures, was chosen. The building contract was awarded to the Inland Construction Company of Chandler, Oklahoma.
And the final outcome… a beautiful and regal edifice, where for approximately 60 years the business of law flowed into, and out of the Washington County Courthouse, making history every day. Two interesting historical events that happened in the early years included a court reporter by the name of Matthew Chilton, who fell to his death in 1922 from a second story corridor and another in 1926, when there was a long drawn out gun battle between Bill Easley and his son-in-law Clem Binning, resulting in courthouse drama and the death of Mr. Easley, bringing an abrupt end to a prolonged family dispute.
On January 26, 1981, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are many of the buildings, schools and courthouses designed by P.H. Weathers.
Although Bartlesville was and is, the largest city or town in Washington County, it took all of the small communities and townships to build a county. This year-long exhibit, on display in the Northwest hall until 2012, is a representation of all of those smaller, less populated towns and areas of Washington County. While they might not all have been incorporated, or had post offices, the significance lies in that they were organized settlements and townships for a time, and in fact a major influence on the history of the area.
The museum is located at 401 S. Johnstone-5th floor, admission is free and donations always welcome. Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. for more information call 918-4294 or 918-338-4290.
Bartlesville Area History Museum
Jo Crabtree, Volunteer Coordinator
9 August, 2011