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History of Woodward

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Woodward, Oklahoma is located at the junctions of state highways 270 and 412, and is the county seat of Woodward County. Boiling Springs State Park is six miles to the northwest. Woodward was founded in April 1887 when the Southern Kansas railway (a subsidiary of the Santa Fe) built tracks to this point from Kiowa, Kansas.

The source of the town’s name remains a mystery. It may have been named for Brinton W. Woodward, who is usually identified as a Santa Fe railway director. Richard “Uncle Dick” Woodward, buffalo-hunter, teamster, and local saddle maker is also a candidate.

Located in the western quadrant of the Cherokee Outlet, the town began six years before the Outlet was officially opened to non-Indian settlers. It was needed as a provisioning point for Fort Supply, located twelve miles to the northwest. Woodward has been a trade center ever since.

At the time of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet on September 16, 1893, a surveying error caused the town, its land office and other public buildings, to be located in the section west of the existing improvements, a good fifteen blocks away from the depot, post office, and stockyards. Two towns sprang up. East Woodward (called New Denver) began near the improvements, while Woodward was built near the land office.

In October 1894, East Woodward businesses followed the depot when it was moved west to be located between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The land office, jail, and other government buildings were eventually moved toward the depot. The two towns became one. The curve in the city’s long Main Street at Eighth (originally called Boundary) is the result of the municipal marriage.

Woodward remained one of the most extensive cattle shipping points in Oklahoma Territory. Town leaders had made certain that market drives would not be fenced away from the stockyards. In keeping with the cattle-marketing tradition, on February 23, 1933 the Woodward Livestock Auction opened. It was the first commercial-grade cattle auction in Oklahoma.

The open range had ended in 1901. Homesteaders flooded in, and by late 1902 cowponies tied to hitching posts no longer lined Main Street. They had been replaced by farmers’ wagons, soon to be filled with crops for market. Corn, cotton, and broomcorn were initially planted by many farmers, however these eventually gave way to wheat as the primary cash crop by 1914. Woodward’s population had grown from to over 2,000 people in 1907 to 2,696 in the 1920 census.

With beef cattle being replaced by the farmers’ milk cow and progress measured in the number of acres broken by the plow, the USDA established the Great Plains Field Station southwest of town in 1913. Years later, beef cattle once again dominated the land, and re-grassing northwest Oklahoma became a new goal of the station. In 1978, the facility was renamed the Southern Plains Range Research Station.

By 1930, Woodward’s population had grown to 5,056 residents. During the Great Depression, local Works Progress Administration projects included the damming of an artesian well (a failed oil well venture) to form Crystal Beach Lake and its adjacent park. This facility would become a playground for Woodward’s trade area and home for the Elks Rodeo, which began in 1929. Organizers were some of the men who had ridden for the big cow outfits in the 1800s. Woodward’s population continued to grow during the depression years reaching 5,406 inhabitants in 1940.

Woodward’s story forever changed the night of April 9, 1947 when a tornado ripped across the city shortly after 8:30pm. The storm moved from southwest to northeast, destroying 200 city blocks, which were mostly residential areas, and killing more than 100 people. The effects of the twister would change the area so much that history would now be measured as having happened before or after the tornado. Woodward continued to grow despite the tragedy, with the 1950 census showing a population of 5,915.

In late November 1956, Woodward began a new adventure — the roller coaster ride of oil and gas production. McCormick #1 became the country’s discovery gas well, and a boom of more than twenty years followed. Main Street and Oklahoma Avenue stretched west to the “Oil Patch.”