History of Bartlesville & Washington County, Oklahoma

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Bartlesville City History Bartlesville Carrels

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Jacob BartlesBartlesville takes its name from Jacob Bartles, who was born in New Jersey and moved to Kansas when he was fifteen. He was married to Nannie Journeycake Pratt, the widowed daughter of Delaware Chief Charles Journeycake. They settled in the Caney River valley at Silver Lake in 1873. Jacob moved north in 1875 to establish a trading post on Turkey Creek in present-day Bartlesville. On May 6, 1879 he started the first Bartlesville, Indian Territory post office at this site, which is designated by a marker several yards east of the present-day Dollar General store.

Carr's MillNelson Carr

Nelson Carr was born in New York state on September 2, 1844. He migrated west in 1859 and had a trading post in Oswego, Kansas in 1866. That year he married Sara Ann Rogers, a quarter-blood Cherokee, which enabled him to move into the Cherokee Nation in 1867. He and Sara Ann established a small trading post along the Osage Indian trail on the Caney River at Black Dog ford, northwest of present-day Bartlesville. It was later destroyed by some Osages after they had a skirmish with a hunting party of Cheyennes. Carr cut a mill race across a narrow neck of land in a horseshoe bend of the Caney across from present-day Johnstone Park. He built a corn grist mill, which was purchased by Jacob Bartles in 1875. Four years later Carr was appointed a member of the U.S. Secret Service and apprehended a murderer who was later hanged by the famous Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas. When the oil boom struck, Carr sold and leased out his large farming and cattle operations and worked on developing over 100 producing wells on his family's property.

Bartles' StoreAfter buying Carr's mill, Jacob Bartles enlarged and converted it to flour production. In 1877 the Bartles Store was built at the site and the Bartlesville post office was moved there in 1880. Bartles eventually added a saw mill, furniture shop, hotel, and two large farms to his holdings, which were all north of the Caney River and commonly called Bartles Town or Northside.

George B. Keeler and William JohnstoneGeorge B. Keeler and William Johnstone, both former employees of Bartles, built a store south of the Caney on higher land in 1885, on present-day north Delaware Avenue. This Southside area of Bartlesville developed rapidly and competed with Bartles' Northside. A natural dam was used as a ford between Northside and Southside, just below the present-day Highway 123 bridge. Southside reached a population of 200 in 1896, and incorporated as Bartlesville on January 15, 1897.

Nellie Johnstone WellThe first commercial oil well in Oklahoma, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1, was drilled by Johnstone, Keeler, and Michael Cudahy across the river from Bartles' mill. It blew in on March 25, 1897 and was "completed" on April 15. In 1898, Jacob Bartles and a Colonel Porter began building a railroad grade that ran south from Caney, Kansas, passed just west of Bartlesville, and led south to the Collins coal mine in present-day Collinsville. The grade was costly and the Santa Fe railroad agreed to take it over and finish it. Bartles was outraged when George Keeler convinced the railroad to locate the Bartlesville depot in the Southside area in 1899. Bartles decided to move and start a new town, so he placed his store on log rollers and moved it overland northeast along the railroad grade, continuing to do business throughout the slow move. He started the new town of Dewey about four miles from Bartlesville. The Carr-Bartles mill was finally dismantled in 1914 by Jacob's son Joe, who planned to use its black walnut lumber for a new home in Dewey. The lumber was lost when a wildfire burned its storage barn. Two of Bartles' mill burrs are set in the walls of the Dewey city library.

Bartlesville in 1906Bartlesville boomed in the early 1900s with the development of the huge oil fields on the neighboring Osage Indian reservation. The rich oil fields around Bartlesville itself were not fully exploited until 1905, when the Department of the Interior allowed oil leasing to begin. The city in 1907 was a forest of derricks. Upon statehood that year, Bartlesville was made the seat of Washington County. The Santa Fe Railroad built a new Bartlesville Depot in 1909, which was renovated in 1946. Passenger train service stopped in 1971. Phillips Petroleum bought the depot in 1983 and remodeled it, donating it to the Chamber of Commerce in 1998.

Bartlesville had its share of outlaws in its early days, and later Frank Phillips would hold reunions where former outlaws and lawmen would reminisce. One notable incident, the "most spectacular robbery in Oklahoma history", happened on June 14, 1903. Outlaws Sam and Will Martin held up more than 75 people who travelled the Old Road to Pawhuska on a Sunday afternoon, three miles west of Bartlesville on Liza Creek.

Historically Significant Businesses of Bartlesville

H.V. FosterMasonic BuildingBartlesville's industrial development centered on oil. In 1901 H.V. Foster established the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, with its old headquarters at the intersection of today's Frank Phillips Boulevard and Johnstone. Foster controlled the immense Osage oil lease and became the richest man west of the Mississippi. He built the La Quinta mansion between 1930-32 for $500,000. ITIO was later controlled by Empire Gas Company, which in 1918 built the nine-story Masonic Building with its lodge with blue windows up on the top floor. ITIO/Empire eventually became part of Cities Service Oil Company, which had its operational headquarters in Bartlesville until it was relocated to Tulsa in 1971. Mergers and spin-offs in the 1980s split up the company among OXY USA, Citgo, and Williams Natural Gas Co.

Phillips BuildingsFrank and L.E. Phillips

Frank Phillips arrived in Bartlesville in 1903. He and his brother Lee Eldas (L.E.) ran a variety of banks and oil companies, and drilled their first successful well in 1905. Frank built his local mansion in 1908. In 1917 the brothers founded the Phillips Petroleum Company, which eventually dominated the town. Frank began the Woolaroc ranch in 1925 and established a museum there in 1929.

Phillips Petroleum's world headquarters remained in Bartlesville until a 2002 merger with Conoco. The new ConocoPhillips company's headquarters was in Houston, while Bartlesville was home to the company's Global Shared Services division, including the global information technology center, global financial services, and human resources support organizations. In 2012 ConocoPhillips reduced to an upstream company for petroleum exploration and production and Phillips 66 was spun off for downstream operations in refining, marketing, natural gas processing, and petrochemicals. Both companies had their Global Services Centers in Bartlesville for finance, information technology, and other operations. ConocoPhillips retained the Plaza Office Building, Frank Phillips Tower Center, Information Center, and Adams Warehouse/Cold Storage facilities. Phillips 66 retained the Phillips Building, Adams Building, and Research Center.

SmeltersBartlesville was home to three zinc smelters. The Lanyon-Starr Smelters were built in 1906, and the Bartlesville Zinc and National Zinc smelters in 1907. The smelters came because the area had so many natural gas wells and the world's largest zinc mines were around Miami, Oklahoma and Joplin, Missouri. H.V. Foster was about to lose his "blanket lease" in the Osage Hills when he persuaded the government to dedicate a 300,000 acre tract to his ITIO Company to assure adequate gas supply to the smelters. The three smelters operated through World War I, and Lanyon-Starr and Bartlesville Zinc consolidated during the war. The smelters employed numerous Polish and German workers, who lived in little communities around west Bartlesville with such interesting names as Ragtown, Pruneville, Flypoint, Frog Hollow, and Mosquito Row.


In 1908 the Bartlesville Interurban Railway opened, expanding by 1915 to operate two loops with 10.1 miles of trolley track connecting the zinc smelters with the rest of Bartlesville and Dewey. Stops included Dewey, Tuxedo, National Zinc Co., Bartlesville Zinc Co., Star Smelting Co., and Interurban Park. A round trip cost about 20 cents and took 45 minutes on the north loop, with half-hour service on the south loop. The terminal, brick power house, and car barn were at Fourth and Comanche. The line, like so many others, was wiped out by auto interests and closed in 1920. Visible remains include the angled Interurban Drive in the Tuxedo area of Bartlesville, with the old line route extending across modern-day Robinwood Park and leading to some old bridge pilings on the Caney River nearby.

National Zinc was the only smelter remaining when Bartlesville Zinc relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma in 1926 because of declining gas supplies. National Zinc's furnaces were rebuilt and enlarged in 1937, and modernized in 1953 with the multiple hearth roasters replaced by fluid-bed units. In 1966, it acquired all of the gas wells on 107,000 acres of the old Foster/ITIO lease from ITIO's successor, the Cities Service Oil Company. A new acid plant capable of producing 6,800 tons of sulphuric acid per month was installed in 1969. In 1974 the 125-acre National Zinc complex was bought by Englehard Minerals and Chemicals Corporation, which spent $43 million on an electrolytic smelter. The plant changed hands in 1987 and became the Zinc Corporation of America. The old zinc smelting processes caused lead contamination of soils in the area, leading to an extensive clean-up in the 1990s.

Petroleum Experiment StationThe U.S. Bureau of Mines founded the Petroleum Experiment Station in Bartlesville in 1918. Petroleum research was conducted at this facility for decades under a variety of names. It became the Bartlesville Petroleum Research Center in the mid-1960s, the Bartlesville Energy Research Center in 1975, the Bartlesville Energy Technology Center in 1977, and the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research in 1983. It was operated from 1983-1993 by IIT Research Institute, and then by BDM-Oklahoma which agreed to privatize it in 1995. By 1999 the facility was closed, and some of the buildings became the headquarters for the Delaware indian tribe. The tribe sold its headquarters in 2006 after being denied its sovereignty.

Price TowerHal PriceHal Price, a chemist at Bartlesville Zinc, founded an electric welding company in 1921. His development of a shield arc or coated electrode was adopted by the petroleum industry. He formed the H.C. Price Company which became one of the largest pipeline and pipeline coating contractors in the world. In 1956 Price hired Frank Lloyd Wright to build the local Price Tower. The Price company was later bought out and relocated. Over a period of twenty years, Price's son Joe had architect Bruce Goff build the incredible Shin-en-Kan home in south Bartlesville. Sadly, it burned in 1996.

REDA PumpArmais Arutunoff

In 1916 Armais Arutunoff, who lived in Russia, developed an electrical submergible motor and pump. He emigrated to America in 1923 and in 1928 moved to Bartlesville and formed, with the backing of Phillips Petroleum company, the Bart Manufacturing Company. His pump was crucial to the successful production of thousands of oil wells. In 1930 the company became REDA Pump, an acronym for Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff. It occupied the city's industrial park just northwest of downtown and the plant eventually grew to nine acres, or 30 times its original size, through 42 additions over the years. REDA merged with TRW (another acronym for Thompson, Ramo, and Woolridge) in 1969 and later TRW REDA acquired the Masonic Building that had been the headquarters of Cities Service. REDA was divested by TRW in 1988 and became a division of Camco Inc. In the late 1990s the company became Schlumberger-REDA Production Systems. In 2001 the city, motivated by the need to retain the 500 jobs at REDA, announced an ambitious plan to rebuild the company's aging plant. The 16 different lease agreements for the land the plant occupied would be consolidated into one lease, and the plant would be rebuilt in phases resulting in a new city-owned and air-conditioned facility of over 300,000 square feet. But that plan was scrapped in early 2003 when Schlumberger announced it would not rebuild the facility, but instead only refurbish the existing structure. In 2004 Schlumberger sold the 170,000-square-foot nine-story Masonic Building to Rogers State University.

The City Today

Bartlesville SkylineBartlesville's 2010 population was 35,750. Since the early 1980s Phillips Petroleum reduced its local workforce from about 9,000 to 2,400 before merging with Conoco and Bartlesville was the headquarters for the Global Shared Services of ConocoPhillips, with employment fluctuating from roughly 2,900 to 3,400. In 2012 Phillips 66 was spun off as a downstream company, with upstream operations remaining with ConocoPhillips. About 1,600 Phillips 66 employees and 1,500 ConocoPhillips employees worked in Bartlesville.

Bartlesville is also the home of Schlumberger-REDA Production Systems, a Wal-Mart distribution center, SITEL call center, and numerous small industries. Bartlesville has evolved into a regional shopping center and its small size is belied by its outstanding cultural opportunities. You can see the "official" scoop on the town at the Chamber of Commerce's Official Bartlesville Home Page, the City Tourism Page, and the City Government page. There is also the Bartlesville History Museum.