The Redbud City: Growing pains in 1940

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
A significant business in downtown Shawnee in the 1940s, that started in the early days and was still going strong in the 21st century was the Hamburg King, located on east Main Street.

SHAWNEE LOSES POPULATION IN 1940 CENSUS

Shawnee’s 1940 census figure was placed at 22,039 in the official preliminary tabulation announced Friday morning, June 7, 1940, by H.K. Castleberry, fourth district census supervisor. The figure represented a decline of 1,244 people from Shawnee’s boom-time high of 23,283 population when the last federal census was taken in 1930.

“This figure probably will be increased from 100 to 200 people when the final federal tabulation is made,” Castleberry told a newspaperman, who gathered in the Chamber of Commerce offices for the announcement. “Absentees who gave Shawnee as their official residence will be cleared when the final check is made in Washington. The official figure will be announced probably early in the fall.”

OFFICERS NAB JEHOVAHITES

A 67-year-old Shawnee man and three local women were arrested downtown Saturday afternoon, June 15, 1940, while distributing religious literature. They were charged under the city’s anti-seditious literature ordinance. Chief of Police F.A. Budd said that the four were released without bond to appear in police court the following Monday.

“They agree not to do anything or to pass any more literature out,” said Budd.

The police chief said he hadn’t read any of the group’s literature lately, but added, “I’ve read it in the past. There’s something in it about saluting the flag and Jehovah and stuff like that.”

Asked whether the group was spreading “fifth column” propaganda, Budd said he didn’t think so. The arrests, however, were “in line” with similar action taken by police at Ardmore and Kingfisher against similar groups, he explained.

Assisting Budd in making the arrests were Officers Jack Cook, Leo Timmons, and Al Foraker. Two members of the same sect were arrested in Seminole and then released after being questioned.

CITY TO BUY AIRPORT TRACT

Shawnee’s dream of an enlarged and improved airport comparable to the finest in the state became a reality after long months of dickering. Indian landowners and city commissioners finally came to an agreement on the price of land wanted by the city. With the 160 acres to be purchased from the Native Americans, and the present airport of 80 acres, owned by the city, the enlarged field totaled 240 acres, large enough for the largest planes to land.

In March of 1939, the city voted a bond issue of $38,500 for the improved airport and expected to add approximately $150,000 in federal funds through a WPA project. The project called for graveled runways, new hangars, and an administration building.

In the agreement reached at the meeting Tuesday night, July 2, 1940, the city agreed to pay Alice Abraham, owner of the 80 acres just south of the present port land, $1,000 in cash and trade. Lena Hood, Frank Reed, and Ed Reed, owners of the second 80 acres, south of the Abraham tract, would receive $10,000 for their land.

The Native Americans retained all mineral rights to the land, but a clause in the contract provided that if the land was used for an airport, it could not be developed for oil.

MEMBERS OF CHURCH SECT FINED

Seven members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious sect that did not allow its followers to salute a flag, were being held in the county jail Saturday night, Aug. 31, 1940. They were convicted that afternoon in municipal court on a charge of circulation of seditious literature.

The members, two men and five women, were rounded up by the city officers that morning about 10:30, soon after they began distributing their literature on Main Street. Two of the seven arrested were among the ones arrested and fined about a month earlier.

In municipal court, Judge Merle Chapman gave the group a brief hearing and ordered five of them to pay fines of $7.50 each, and the two who had previously been arrested to pay fines of $17.50 each. A motion of appeal to the district court was immediately filed by the group’s attorney and Chapman set their appeal bond at $50 each, which they failed to make by Saturday night.

O.R. Yerington, who acted as spokesman for the group, told the court that he considered it his duty as an ordained minister of the Witnesses to circulate the literature and said that he was standing on his constitutional rights to do so. He denied that the literature was of seditious nature, although he admitted, under Chapman’s questioning, that it dealt with the group’s precepts that did not allow the members to salute a flag or take up arms even though their nation was invaded.

JUDGE TO TAKE A LOOK AT “FOUR CORNERS”

Sober, serious Judge J. Knox Byrum announced in open court on Sept. 21, 1940, he would drop in on the Maryland Dance Hall one of these nights within the next two weeks. Judge Byrum announced his night club visit following a district court hearing on a petition for a temporary injunction to require the dance hall, located at “Four Corners,” north of town, to tone down its loudspeakers so as not to disturb residents in the area.

A temporary restraining order requiring the place to be operated quietly enough not to disturb neighbors was extended to prohibit the sale of beer until proper permits were secured. Judge Byrum continued the injunction hearing until Oct. 2.

“I want to see for myself just what kind of a place it is,” the judge announced in court. Later he elaborated and said his plans for the visit still were indefinite. “I may just drive by in my car and I may not even go in at all. When I go by there in the daytime there’s no one there, and you’d think the building was empty.”

M.R. Ogee, who said he had a half interest in the place, denied accusations that frequently between three and five bushels of bottles littered North Street and Highway 18 around the hall. “I have picked up as many as five whiskey bottles,” he told the court.

He said the loudspeakers used inside the hall were operated only to allow dancers on all parts of the floor to hear the music and, although they could be heard some distance outside, it was not loud enough to bother anyone.

Ogee admitted on the witness stand he was selling beer without a county permit in his name, but said he was trying to get one. Deputy Sheriff Bill Miller testified seeing minors and drunks buy beer at the hall and that he answered several calls for investigating disturbances.

These stories all appear in Volume Two (1930-49) 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. They are now open, and you may visit them, or 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 May or June. Volume six, (2010-2021) should follow quickly in the fall.