Over time, Guthrie has lost population. In 1889 it was a tent city of 15,000 during the Oklahoma Land Rush. In the Unassigned Lands, Guthrie had a Federal Land Office where rushers were required to file claims for their properties. Four months after the historic settlement event, Guthrie was home to 81 lawyers. Today it’s a fading town of about 10,000. Ruth and I went there on our 2nd 2015 trip to Oklahoma because a couple of people said it was a must-see place. In my opinion, skip it.
I say fading because Guthrie looked like the kind of town that a generation or so ago had a resurgence that has slowly ebbed away. Its Banjo Museum moved to go-go Oklahoma City. The owner of Kokopelli Village Antiques and Collectibles told me that she and her husband were thinking of closing their store. We had dinner at the no-fun Stables Cafe. It was awful.
What Guthrie does have is preserved history. According to an AAA Tour Book, “Ninety percent of Guthrie’s original buildings remain intact.” If you love late 19th and early 20th century architecture, antique stores, etc., Guthrie’s your kind of place. Many of the old brick buildings had helpful signs relating their history. For example, the Blue Bell Bar info noted that silent film cowboy star Tom Mix was once a bartender here, and that its upper floor was probably a bordello.
Guthrie was Oklahoma’s capital for 6 years beginning in 1907, the year that Oklahoma became a state. Due to a disruptive political atmosphere, an election was held 3 years early and Oklahoma City got 80,000 more votes than Guthrie to become state capital. When the government moved south, Guthrie fell behind and, apparently, never recovered.
One tourist brochure ordered me to “Explore Museums!” so Ruth & I went to the Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library. It was intermittently interesting, but the displays were dated and its 2 floors were dimly lit. It seemed like the kind of museum that survives on school field trips, not enthusiastic paying customers. I learned that William Clark, who explored the Louisiana Purchase with Meriwether Lewis, was the official who began the removal of the eastern tribes from their native lands via the Trail of Tears and that 10,000 ex-slaves participated in The Land Rush. Each received 160 acres. I was shocked and amused by the weird story of Elmer McCurdy in the notorious outlaw area. As is true of many museums in Oklahoma, a lot of OTMCL was devoted to its famous Land Rush.
The Carnegie Library was entered through a 2nd floor door and was stuffy and hot. No longer a library, it appeared to be used for meetings. There was very little furniture and no one was in it but me. Sensing ghosts of eras past, I was uncomfortable. In fact, I kept looking in the rear-view mirror all the way to the Interstate. Guthrie is kind of a ghost town.