When Bartlesville was first settled in the 1870’s, it was little more than a trading post and a general store. That all changed when George Keeler noticed a rainbow sheen on the rocks by the Caney River. What followed was an oil boom and an awakening for the sleepy town of Bartlesville.
Known as the birthplace of Phillips Oil Company, this piece of Oklahoma once mainly occupied by the Osage, Cherokee, and Delaware Indians has come a long way. Working hard to preserve a dying piece of Oklahoma culture and cultivating a new era along the way, Bartlesville has proven there’s more to this city than Old Nellie, although you can still see a replica of Oklahoma’s first oil rig here as well. While you’re at it, here are five more things you won’t want to miss in Bartlesville.
- Woolaroc Ranch, Museum, and Wildlife PreserveWoolaroc, a 3,700-acre wildlife preserve, was the dream and lifelong work of Phillips Petroleum Company founder Frank Phillips (photo by Galen Frysinger)
At the top of our Bartlesville bucket list is Woolaroc, the country home and ranch of Phillips Petroleum Company founder Frank Phillips and his wife, Jane. The lodge began construction in 1925 as a modest cabin overlooking Clyde Lake. By 1927 the lodge was complete and now contained eight bedrooms. It became a place for Phillips to close business deals and entertain guests varying from Osage Nation leaders to Presidents (and, rumor has it, an outlaw or two).Phillips was an enthusiast of Western culture and wanted to preserve a piece of his own memories to share with future generations. Establishing the Woolaroc Museum in 1929, Phillips began collecting his large collection of Western art and artifacts. Today the museum has added to Phillips’s life work and also includes Native American art, the most complete collection of Colt firearms, and even an exhibit on aviation history, a particular interest of Phillips. Phillips’s private airplane: the hangar has become part of the Woolaroc Museum (photo by Galen Frysinger)
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment at Woolaroc is the land itself. It now serves as a 3,700-acre wildlife preserve, home to more than thirty native and exotic animals and birds. Notably, the Woolaroc buffalo herd lineage goes back to 1926 when ninety bison were brought to the ranch from South Dakota. And as hunting is forbidden on the grounds, fear not the mounted heads and antlers of animals ranging from a giraffe to Texas longhorn cattle: all mounts came from animals that had died of natural causes.
- The Sooner Park Play Tower Architect Bruce Goff created this whimsical tower of child’s play, also known as the Sooner Park Play Tower, as a gift from Mrs. Harold C. Price to the children of Bartlesville (photo by Lynne Rostochil, courtesy of Okie Mod Squad)
In 1963 Mrs. Harold C. Price, wife of the founder of H.C. Price Company, commissioned architect Bruce Goff to create a gift from her to the children of Bartlesville. Sooner Park was soon to open, and she hoped to have a centerpiece created for all to enjoy. What was created was an architectural piece of art.Goff’s design for the Sooner Park Play Tower was based on mathematical principles—line, sphere, circle, cylinder, spiral, and Mobius strip. The tower consisted of a fifty-foot spiral staircase enclosed in metallic mesh. At the top of the tower, the mesh sphere contained a circular seating that offered spectacular views of their beloved Bartlesville. The bottom of the tower contained a large sand pit and features intended for climbing and play. To complete the child-friendly design, the tower was painted red, yellow, and green. The Sooner Park Play Tower underwent a major renovation and is once again enjoyed by the children of Bartlesville (photo by Lynne Rostochil, courtesy of Okie Mod Squad)
The Sooner Park Play Tower just received a near-$150,000 makeover, thanks to the city’s fundraising efforts marking the tower’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013. In November of the following year, after decades of the tower’s being closed due to damages, the gift of Mrs. Price was once again enjoyed by the children of Bartlesville.
- The Painted Buffalo What started as a Senior Gold project for a local Girl Scout troop has become a highlight of Bartlesville. These life-size painted buffalo can be seen around the town. (Photo by Galen Frysinger)
Looking around town, you can see several of these elaborately painted buffalo at various locations, from the Kiddie Park to the Osage Casino. While these bison may not have a history that goes as far back as the herd at Woolaroc, their story is just as good.This herd made its way to Bartlesville in 1998, thanks to a local group of Girl Scouts who started what’s known as the “Buffalo Stampede” for their Senior Gold project. The original buffalo sculpture was created by artist Sandra Van Zant. The troop then sold the buffalo replicas to area businesses and individuals. The price included the painting and transportation as chosen by the buyer and approved by the city. The troop chose to give the entirety of their profits to Mary Martha Outreach, a local nonprofit that provides everything from food and household supplies to haircuts to those in need at no cost.
- The Music of BartlesvilleSince 1985 the OK Mozart Festival has brought a cultural experience like no other to Oklahoma. Pictured is one of the festival’s concert events at Woolaroc. (Photo courtesy of OK Mozart International Music Festival)
There always seems to be something happening on Bartlesville’s music scene.Bartlesville is the home to the OK Mozart International Festival, a city highlight since 1985. The event, bringing music lovers from outside of Oklahoma’s borders, hosts seven days of musicians including world-renowned orchestra players and conductors, along with Grammy award-winning artists. The likes of Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman have graced the stage and streets of Bartlesville, all to bring a cultural experience unlike any other to the region.But thanks to a dedicated group of music aficionados, the music doesn’t stop after the week-long festival comes to a close. Before you visit, check out the Bartlesville Community Concert Association’s lineup. Since 1935, this nonprofit has brought entertainment such as the Beach Boys and the Glen Miller Orchestra to this hoppin’ Oklahoma city. The organization also has many community outreach programs, and tickets to most concerts are priced next to nothing, if not free.
- Price TowerThe Price Tower, commissioned by the founder of H.C. Price Company, is the only realized skyscraper by iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright (photo by Galen Frysinger)
Architecture enthusiasts can’t miss this skyscraper located in the heart of downtown Bartlesville. Iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned by Harold C. Price to create the nineteen-floor, 221-foot-tall building. Architect Bruce Goff, whom the Price family had hired to build the Sooner Park Play Tower, had recommended Wright to Price for the project. The building was to house the offices of H.C. Price Co., builder of oil and gas pipelines, along with commercial offices, retail, and residential space to offset the costs.Wright used the original designs he had created for St. Mark’s in the Bowery in New York City for his plans for the Price Tower. Being built on the Oklahoma prairie, a sharp contrast from New York City, Wright nicknamed his only realized skyscraper of his career “the tree that escaped the crowded forest.”The tower was completed in 1956 and is today listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Recognizing it as the piece of architectural history it is, the Phillips Petroleum Company bought it when the H.C. Price Company moved its headquarters to another profitable oil territory, Dallas, Texas. Two decades later, Phillips donated it to the Price Tower Arts Center, so that all can enjoy this masterpiece by the man whom the American Institute of Architects named the “greatest American architect of all time.”
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