The Redbud City: Redbud City forces into the 1940s

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
The citizens of Shawnee always loved a parade, and this 1940s Dog Parade on Main Street was attended by thousands of entertained on lookers.

Shawnee made it through the 1930s with a few scrapes and bruises but survived the “Hard Times.” The decade produced a lot of “good guys” and “bad guys.” The depression hit the city hard and many families suffered, but the community was resilient and reached out in many ways to help the needy.

The city saw a big facelift during the 10 years of the 1930s, with the rise of the courthouse, the municipal auditorium, the city lake, and a few others. However, according to the 1940 U.S. Census there were 22,053 people living in Shawnee, 95 percent of which were American born. This was a five percent decrease from the 1930 Census.

The 1940s showed more progress for the city. The state legislature designated Shawnee in 1942 as the “Redbud City” of Oklahoma. It was easy see why they tagged it with the obvious. The city was adorned with all kinds of flowers, especially redbuds, as the active “town-builders” beautified the community.

More and more of the pioneers that help found and develop the city punched their tickets to eternity during the decade. At the same time, new community leaders came to the forefront and led the city to new heights.

The city began to slowly, but consistently, move to the north, expanding the city limits. New industries popped up and the old ones expanded. The two local colleges continued to progress in their goals of preparing young students for the world that awaited them. Both OBU and St. Gregory’s expanded the facilities on their campuses to provide more opportunities for their students.

The city government continued to struggle in their attempt to improve living conditions for its citizens. However, the police and fire departments were developing into first-class organizations, with talented and dedicated servants in their employ.

The first part of the decade saw the entire country enthralled in a world war, causing the “tightening of our belts” with certain items in our daily lives. When the Allies prevailed and the world was through with war for a while, America became the most thriving nation in the world. Shawnee became a part of that culture as well.

CITY GETS ACREAGE NEEDED FOR AIRPORT

Shawnee’s dream of a large and modern airport, where planes could land without tangling in telephone wires and bounding into hollows, was one step nearer Thursday, Jan. 18, 1940, and civic boosters hoped the “go ahead” sign was looming for the project.

T.E. Thompson, city manager, announced that afternoon a deal to trade for the 80 acres of Indian land adjoining the present airport on the south was arranged and the proposal would go to Washington for approval. It was the first definite forward step on the airport project in many weeks.

Mrs. Alice Abraham, Indian owner of the 80-acre tract, Thompson and L.E. Regan, airport manager, and A.C. Hector, superintendent of the Shawnee Indian agency, conferred on the proposal at the agency that morning. Full details of the trade agreement were explained to Mrs. Abraham and she agreed to accept the city’s offer.

Hector told the city representative he would submit the proposal to the Indian Bureau at the Department of the Interior for approval. It required some time to complete the Washington routine, but city-backers hoped the federal approval would be forthcoming without unusual delay.

Mrs. Abraham agreed to accept the old Chapman well farm, a 70-acre tract, less highway right-of-way that the city formerly used as its water source, and a $1,000 payment in exchange for the 80 acres. She would also move off and retain possession of buildings on the land.

The city also negotiated for the 80 acres of Indian land further to the south, adjoining the Abraham tract. The 160 acres would be large enough for a modern and efficient landing field, although the additional 80 acres would equip the city with a field even more complete.

All buildings listed in the airport plans would be built on the land included in either the present field or the Abraham farm. Buildings planned were an airport administration building, hangar, and the shops building of the NYA regional school. It would be partly on the present NYA land and partly on the airport land.

The city voted a $38,500 municipal bond issue for enlargement and improvement of the airport on March 7, 1939. With the cash in hand, the city hoped to obtain a large amount of federal funds for the improvement work as soon as title to the necessary land was secured.

TRAINING BOYS WHILE BUILDING NYA SCHOOL A BIG TASK

Less than a year earlier, the first load of lumber was dumped on a weed patch in northwest Shawnee and the federal government tacitly told E. Fred Lewis, director, “There you are and here’s a bunch of untrained boys. Go ahead and start building Oklahoma’s first NYA regional training school.”

That was a full-sized order, even for a man as big and as experienced in handling young men and construction work as Fred Lewis. But progress was made, and Lewis vowed that the task would be finished on time. He said the $350,000 practical education plant would be clicking at full-speed by July of 1942.

“We’ve got two major jobs out here,” Lewis explained on Saturday, Jan. 27, 1940, “we have to build the school and we have to train the boys to build it as we go along. Bad weather and red tape have slowed us, but we’ll make better progress from now on.”

Lewis had 85 young men from 18 to 25 years of age housed in the two temporary wooden barracks buildings. He asked for 20 more that would be all the present facilities could accommodate. When the first permanent dormitory was completed, during the summer, more workers could be brought in.

Past records of the boys who came to Shawnee’s school did not count with Lewis. He had some “tough boys.” Some of them did not get it in their heads that they were given a chance to “learn to earn.” Or they just did not care. Eight such as these were asked to leave. But the great majority of the boys were won to full cooperation with the NYA program and were working faithfully for Lewis.

Currently, the little school had but four full-time employees. In addition to the boys. Lewis also had six trusted helpers among the boys he was training for foremen’s jobs.

Each NYA youth drew a $30 monthly check from Uncle Sam, but $18 was deducted from that amount at the procurement office for his board, room, and utility bills. From the remaining $12, he paid one dollar monthly for laundry service. The $11 balance was his to spend as he pleased for personal wants.

These stories all appear, along with hundreds of others, in the six-volume history of the City of Shawnee. The first four volumes, through 1989, are now available for purchase at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. You may order them online at their website, or by calling (405) 275-8412. Each volume is $35, but a purchase of two or more volumes can be obtained at $30 each. We are offering a special deal. If you purchase any other volume, you may obtain Volume One (1830-1929) for just $20. Volume five, (1990-2009) is coming in the late spring. Volume six, (2010-2021) should follow quickly in the fall.