Help me get the water tower in Randlett, Oklahoma, on the National Register of Historic Places
RANDLETT — Three fresh wells, 15 miles of pipe, and a shiny, new, 50,000-gallon water tower breathed new life into scrappy Randlett, population then about 400, in 1965.
New homes were built on both new water and new promise, and a new highway: The H.E. Bailey Turnpike (also known as Interstate 44 since 1982) — connected Randlett, in Cotton County just north of the Red River, in a new expressway to Lawton and Oklahoma City, 120 miles to the northeast, and south 10 miles to Burkburnett and Wichita Falls in Texas.
People even talked about Dallas, 165 miles to the southeast, as if it were closer, thanks to the highway.
But it was the new waterworks that improved daily life in 1965 for the 118 households in Randlett, the only survivor of five towns founded in 1906 when the wider area, known as the Big Pasture, was opened to settlement by lottery. The others, Eschiti, Quanah, Isadore, and Ahpeatone, didn't take.
The Big Pasture, 480,000 acres of grassland in Cotton, Comanche and Tillman counties, was so called because in the 1880s Texas ranchers, including historic cattlemen W.T. Waggoner and Samuel Burk Burnett, leased it for cattle grazing from the agency in charge of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation. It was reservation land until added to Oklahoma Territory and opened to settlement in 1906 and the five towns were founded.
Randlett succeeded as the others failed, but by the early 1960s the hardscrabble town needed a public water system to keep going. It had survived the 1950s drought, which started in Texas and eventually left Oklahoma and much of the rest of the Great Plains parched. The drought was over officially by 1957, but groundwater remained scarce in Randlett, and private wells regularly ran dry.
So today that rusty, 54-year-old water tower stands for a lot there on E Avenue west of 10th Street.
"You don't know how much we've looked forward to this until you've had to haul water into a private well," one resident told a newspaper in Wichita Falls.
It changed lives and preserved Randlett, which still has a population of just more than 400. The town might have gone the way of Eschiti, Quanah, Isadore, and Ahpeatone, or close, without it.
And so the Randlett water tower is my next personal project to get listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I do so with the blessing of the Randlett Public Works Authority.
A water tower on the National Register? Absolutely, if it has maintained its historical integrity, which it has despite the rust, and meets other criteria of the National Park Service, which I think it does — but we will see.
Several water towers are already on the National Register. The one in Randlett appears to be identical to one in DeSoto, Mississippi, that went on the register in 2013. Its design was widely used for decades.
Technically, it is a "hemispherical bottom elevated water tower," fabricated with steel plates, set on Z-braced steel legs, with a conical top. Some people call it the "Tin Man" style because it resembles the character in "The Wizard of Oz."
A Farmers Home Administration loan of $128,000 funded the water system, which was fed via a 4-inch pipe from three wells on a 35-acre field 5 miles south of town, according to newspaper coverage in Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls. The water was "good and soft," the Texas paper reported.
I am doing this at my own expense. It's fun. If you want to help, here's how:
Wesley Beard was chairman of the first water board. Leroy Laminack was vice chairman. Robert L. Eastman was secretary. Jess Gode and Floyd Justice were directors. If you are descended from any of these men, please contact me at the email address below.
The water system was designed by 10-year-old Biggs & Mathews Consulting Engineers in Wichita Falls, which is still in business. A news story from the time says the design also included "Randell and Short for the water tower, and Griffis Construction Co. for the pipeline and water meters." If you have information on "Randell and Short" or Griffis Construction, please contact me.
Finally, if you know someone still living who can talk about having to haul water, and then the joy of not having to, contact me. I can be reached at email@example.com.
P.S. My National Register nomination of Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2301 NE 23, where I am part-time pastor, is on its way. It goes before the Oklahoma City Historic Preservation Commission on May 1. Fingers crossed.