Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.
In Hartshorne, Oklahoma, the Twin Cities Heritage Museum paints a vivid picture of the life of an early coal-mining town. Fantastic artifacts from the early 1900s allow visitors to take a step back in time to when coal was king.
Today, Hartshorne is reminiscent of a typical small-town main-street community. Historic brick shops stand like sentinels along the main street, guarding against the ravages of time. Their architectural details provide a story in themselves, speaking volumes about the men that created them.
While Hartshorne may not be the bustling coal-mining center that it once was, business is still booming among the historic downtown area. What was once a popular theater has since been converted into an auditorium. Antique shops, flower shops, banks and cafés have taken over buildings that held such famous businesses as the Grady Trading Company.
Without coal, the historic city of Hartshorne may have long ago faded into history, but with a colorful past and energetic citizens who care about the future, Hartshorne is sure to remain on maps for another hundred years.
A History of Hartshorne
In the late 1800s, the lands of Indian Territory were still wild and rugged. In 1871, a large group of pioneers settled in the area around Hartshorne and became the first white settlers in the area. Within four years, this settlement grew into a small town. The people who settled here were as wild and rugged as the land itself, and brawls were a common sight.
As railroads moved into the Indian Territory, white man followed, but it wasn’t until an enterprising Civil War veteran moved into the area that the town of Hartshorne really boomed. James Jackson “J. J.” McAlester saw promise in the Indian Territory.
After the Civil War, he met a man who had surveyed the territory before. The man showed McAlester a location that was abundant with coal and even provided the exact locations of the veins. Taking no chances, McAlester quickly purchased the land and a short time later began his coal mining operations. This would begin the reign of coal in Oklahoma, and Hartshorne being only a few miles away, reaped the rewards.
The opening of the coalfields drew thousands of immigrants into the area. Dr. Hartshorne, a wealthy businessman from Pennsylvania, was caught up in the massive migrations.
A short time before Dr. Hartshorne came to Indian Territory, a group of Pennsylvania coal operators and financiers incorporated the Choctaw, Coal and Railway Company. This company, founded in 1887, could mine and market coal while at the same time build and operate railroads. Two years after the founding of this company, Dr. Hartshorne became president of the company. The company was ambitiously laying tracks eastward into Indian Territory and towards J. J. McAlester’s coal operations. With these tracks in place, it was now possible for coal mined in Hartshorn to be shipped all across the company.
During the time that McAlester was experiencing a coal mining boom, Hartshorne became a major economic force in the area. With abundant coal in the region, and easy transportation through a trolley system to McAlester, Hartshorne was both a vibrant and ever-expanding community of immigrants. In fact, Hartshorne could boast of the largest and best-equipped coal mine in the state of Oklahoma. The Rock Island No. 8 featured advancements in the coal mining process that had never been seen before.
From the incorporation of the town on March 1, 1900, until the mid-1920s, Hartshorne remained a vivacious, bustling coal-mining town. Productivity began to decline in 1922, when oil took over many of the functions that coal once had. As coal mines began to produce less coal, people began to move out of the area in search of better jobs. The great depression finally put an end to the coal era, as well as the glory days of historic Hartshorne.
Modern Hartshorne and the Twin Cities Heritage Museum
Through the years, Hartshorne has struggled on. The dedicated residents remained loyal to their town, and today, you can hear their pride when they speak.
In the past few years, the city has made a great comeback. The shops are full, and business is once again booming. Still, the past remains close. Visitors to Hartshorne not only receive a warm welcome, but also get a chance to reflect on times gone by.
The Twin Cities Heritage Museum honors those brave and hard-working men who helped to shape the modern city of Hartshorne. Located right off of the main street, the museum features hundreds of photographs and relics of a time long past. Directing the museum is a wonderfully knowledgeable resident who is full of old stories and interesting trivia.
For those looking for a unique place to visit and learn about coal mining in Oklahoma, Hartshorne provides an excellent glimpse into history.
© 2011 Eric Standridge
Staceydiana on March 11, 2015:
Thank you for this very interesting article! I lived in Hartshorne when I was a child and thought it was fascinating to read your article.