In a rather quite movement, in what would turn out to be a monumental event for the city of Shawnee, a young entrepreneur by the name of J. Lloyd Ford purchased the Shawnee Roller Mills from Mrs. M.J. Catlin and H.H. Carey for $10,500, on April 3, 1906. E.A. Ford of Shawnee conducted the sale.

FORD PURCHASES SHAWNEE ROLLER MILLS

In a rather quite movement, in what would turn out to be a monumental event for the city of Shawnee, a young entrepreneur by the name of J. Lloyd Ford purchased the Shawnee Roller Mills from Mrs. M.J. Catlin and H.H. Carey for $10,500, on April 3, 1906. E.A. Ford of Shawnee conducted the sale.

Ford was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on September 14, 1876. At the age of two, moved with his family to Grand Rapids and grew up there, graduating from high school in 1895. From an early age, he dreamed of going into the medical field, following in the footsteps of his famous great uncle, Dr. Croydon L. Ford.

In 1897, he made his first trip to Oklahoma Territory to visit his parents who had moved there to participate in the land run. They owned a farm northwest of Shawnee. He worked on the farm for a while before taking a position at the Mammoth Department Store in town as a shoe clerk.

In 1898, he moved back to Grand Rapids and went to work for Fred Macey Company and eventually became the manager of the Card Index department. Later, he became the manager for the G.R. Candy Company, then the manager of the American Chocolate and Confection Company in Chicago.

He later took a leave of absence to visit his parents again in Oklahoma Territory. After taking the train to Oklahoma City, he met a man named George Sohlberg, who offered him a job as a salesman with the Acme Milling Company. He turned the offered down and after his vacation, went back to Chicago.

Later, he changed his mind, resigned and traveled to Oklahoma City and took the position on May 1, 1901. There he met Frances Sims and they were married on October 20, 1903.

A few years later, after a successful career with the company, his friends encouraged him to start his own mill company.

The papers were filed, and a charter was issued to him on April 20, 1906, on the same day that he purchased and changed the name to the Shawnee Milling Company. He started with capital stock of $25,000. The incorporation included himself, his brother Lewis D. Ford, and C.M. “Cash” Cade. The business had a storage capacity of 15,000 bushels of wheat and could turn 75 bushels of flour per day.

The mill was built in Tecumseh in 1891, by Nim Woodward and dragged across the North Canadian River to its present site in 1895. Ford called his new flour “Shawnee Chief.”

No one could have imagined in 1906, that the future of the Shawnee Milling Company would be so magnificent.

SARAH BERNHARDT APPEARS IN SHAWNEE

Sarah Bernhardt, known as the “divine,” arrived in Shawnee on the morning of April 5, 1906, on the Katy line from Oklahoma City. Her special train consisted of her own private car, formerly the W.K. Vanderbilt, “palace on wheels.” She was accompanied by two baggage cars loaded with scenery and trunks, filled with costumes. The train was transferred to the Rock Island and was sent to the west yards for quiet and privacy.

“Camille” was the first of her plays and it provided material for the dramatists for many years. Scarcely any actress of note had failed to have a try at portraying “Marguerite Gauthier,” while a hundred of lesser lights had striven to show to the public the true interpretations of this unhappy woman.

During the performance, at the new Becker Theatre, the auditorium was full. The crowd was estimated at more than 1,000 people. The citizens who witnessed Bernhardt’s performance said it was something they would never forget.

Bernhardt, age 62, at the time, was making her final tour in America. The witnesses came to the performance for many reasons, but one put it succinctly:

“I didn’t see her at all. I went to look for wrinkles and signs of age. I thought I’d get impressions of how she looks. But when I met her, I didn’t see anything but her eyes. They are so big, so gray, so luminous, so hypnotic, that all her other features were lost in them.”

WORK BEGINS ON THE INTERURBAN

Work on grading for the interurban electric line began near the river on the Harrison Avenue section line on April 9, 1906. There was a large amount of dirt moved, as a grade was built beyond the reach of high water to the river. The line started at Harrison and Main and ran beneath the Rock Island and Katy tracks, just east of the Santa Fe lines. The road would pass near the Santa Fe shops and the Shawnee Indian school and then cut direct for Tecumseh. It was the shortest possible route, and was believed that it could be made ready for traffic within 60 to 90 days. The cars were all Pullman models and were made especially for this line.

Within just a couple of days, the interurban company bought the Shawnee Traction Company’s lines and property from receiver J.C. Fisher of the line. The Deka Development Company was engaged in the building of the interurban.

The engineers of the Deka Company said there would be little improvements made in the city until the interurban was finished. An amusement park, with a Pike or Midway, and other attractions, were planned at some location point on the interurban between the two cities.

(These stories and many more will appear in the publication of the history of Shawnee; coming in late 2018 or early 2019. Wooldridge is also the author of two other city histories: “Wilburton: I.T. & OK,” published in 1990; and “McAlester: The Capital of Little Dixie,” published in 2001.)