The Redbud City: Great Depression rages on in fall of 1936

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
One of the good things in the fall of 1936, was the PWA City Auditorium-Gymnasium dedication and it opened for business in mid-October of 1936. It would serve multiple purposes through the years, including conventions, concerts, ball games, and many other things.


With a mighty effort, “Old Sol” set loose another torrid heat wave on July 14, 1936, in its latest attempt to send Shawnee thermometers soaring to a new record high. On that day, the mercury hit 109.

The highest temperatures recorded since 1904 in Shawnee was 110 reached three times; once on August 18, 1909; July 11, 1933; and June 21, 1936. The record low temperatures appeared twice, once in February of 1905, and again in January of 1930, at 14 degrees below zero.

The hottest period in Shawnee was from August 2, 1933, until August 22. During that period, the thermometer did not register below 100 degrees during the day.  For eight days, it stood at 104.

While people guzzled cold drinks, and sit in front of fans, or searched for air-conditioned theaters, or offices, July of 1936 was set to record new records. On the next day, July 15, a new record was set in the city with a recording of 111 degrees. People were dying and suffering all over the United States from the heat wave. In fact, by the weekend, the mercury hit 120 in Alva, Oklahoma.


A searing record-breaking temperature of 117 degrees on Monday, August 10, 1936, stamped Pottawatomie County as a helpless victim of the 1936 drought. It was described by James Lawrence, county farm agent, as the most serious ever visited upon this region.

The reading of 117 degrees on the News and Star recording thermometer was matched by an official recording of 116 by the federal weather observer on north Kickapoo Street. It was a new all-time record for Shawnee and Pottawatomie County, breaking the old mark of 115, set on July 19.

No heat prostrations were reported during the day. The only victim known in the county for the year was John T. Hargue, 63-year-old Romulus pioneer. He died on July 20, after being overcome when he paused to rest from a mid-afternoon walk in the hot sun. There was no relief in the forecast for the near future.

Besides painting a drab picture for the future of farm crops in the region, the punishing heat saw a renewed attack on the precious reserve supply of 2,500,000 gallons of city water. On Monday, the 24 wells were unable to cope with the increased demand imposed by Shawnee water users.

Even as the sun radiated withering blasts of fire over crops, already burned beyond salvation, 100 farmers trekked to Lawrence’s office. They placed in him their hope for survival through Oklahoma winter-drought aid from the resettlement administration. At the same time, supplies to mix 60,000 pounds of poison to rid the county of a devastating grasshopper scourge laid idle. The farmers were very discouraged in their fight to continue with farming.


Flames that spread through the third story of the Dixie Hotel at Main and Philadelphia streets, shortly after 2 P.M. on Wednesday, August 19, 1936, were estimated at $10,000 by Fire Chief W.W. Wicker. Fireman Forrest Adams, from the Central Station, escaped with a gash on his face when a third-story window shattered and showered him with glass as he climbed a latter on the west wall of the building.

Chief Wicker said the blaze started in a room on the third floor occupied by Hiram Ballinger, the hotel’s porter. The fire was caused either by smoking or from a small gas stove in the room. The room was unoccupied for several hours before the fire.

Ballinger discovered the fire and was rescued through a third-story window facing Main Street after smoke filled the building and cut off escape. No guests were found in their rooms at the time and only three were listed on the register. The owner of the building, Ollie Joseph, conferred with Chief Wicker afterwards about the amount of the damages in the building and fixtures.

George Baker, owner of the E & E Grocery Store at 301 east Main Street, said water damage to his stock probably would reach as high was $1,000. Carl Dedmon, of the Dedmon Furniture Store, said the fire caused about $300 damage in his store.

All city fire-fighting equipment, except one truck, and all available men were pressed into service as the blaze brought thousands of spectators to the city’s largest fire since the Shawnee Milling Company burned in August of 1934. Quick work by the firemen brought the blaze under control about 20 minutes after the alarm was turned in. This prevented a possible disastrous fire in the three-story building erected in 1905, and adjoining property.


Shawnee yawned Friday night, October 2, 1936, and pondered the prospect of spending Saturday night under the “reign of terror,” that saw liquor dealers abdicated and slot machines crawl under cover since war was declared earlier in the week. Cafes, taverns, and pig stands had previously been happy gathering spots for Shawnee dancers. They were now ordered to adhere strictly to the city ordinance, which prohibited dancing on Sundays. Police Chief F.A. Budd said the edict meant those places that allowed dancing must conclude that part of their business by midnight on Saturday and not allow dancing on Sundays.

At the same time, Sheriff Walter Mosier’s raiding squads polished off with a “Carrie Nation” attack on nine slot machines that were confiscated on Friday afternoon. Seven of the machines were seized at the Top Hat Tavern at 1501 north Kickapoo, which was outside the city limits. Two others were taken at “Spike’s Place” in Saint Louis.

In the presence of County Attorney Tom Wyatt and District Judge Leroy Cooper, the raiding deputies smashed the machines with an ax. A total of $23.50 was salvaged from the machines and turned into the court fund. Another near confiscation resulted in a liquor raid at Asher. The man suspected of handling the contraband emptied a pint bottle before officers could reach him.

These stories appear in Volume Two of the six-volume series on the history of Shawnee, entitled, “Redbud City,” (1930-1949). The first four volumes are now available and can be purchased by going onto the Pottawatomie County Historical website, or by calling (405-275-8412). Volume One covers from (1830-1929); Volume Three documents the years (1950-1969); and Volume Four, (1970-1989) are now available. Volume Five, (1990-2009) is scheduled for October of 2021. Volume Six, (2010-2022) is about 75 percent finished and should be ready in early 2022.) Each volume is $35, but any purchase of two volumes or more can be purchased at $30 for each volume.