History of Bartlesville & Washington County, Oklahoma

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Washington County, OK


Population: 3,432 in 2010

Dewey was founded on April 19, 1899 by Jacob Bartles. His trading post north of the Caney River in Bartlesville was bypassed by the Santa Fe railroad. Bartles knew there would need to be a stop a few miles onward, so he put his large store on logs and over five months used a upright winch and six horses to move it overland along the railroad right-of-way, 300-400 feet at a time. He kept his store open while it was moved until it arrived at the site where the Tom Mix Museum now stands. He founded a new town there which he named after Admiral George Dewey, made famous by the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War. Across the street Bartles built the Dewey Hotel, which is still a tourist attraction. The Bartles store remained in operation until it burned in 1950.

Dewey Rock SchoolPictured at left is the first Dewey school, built on land donated by Jacob and Nannie Bartles in 1900 with sandrock hauled from the Osage Hills. It was a subscription school which cost $1/month to attend. The federal government paid a teacher $50/month to teach Indian children. The building was torn down in 1908.

Bucking Bronto1908 also brought the death of Jacob Bartles from Bright's disease, but not before his son Joe had hosted the first Dewey Round-Up rodeo to attract some of his comrades in the Civil War to visit Dewey.
Flynn-Dillion Fight, 1916Held behind the Dewey Hotel for the Bartles annual reunion, the event became a Fourth of July tradition and eventually included not only rodeo events but also boxing and auto racing.
Auto Race, 1918The rodeo, with pay outs from Joe Bartles always made in gold and total prize money reaching as high as $2,000, would eventually grow to become one of the three largest in the world. The state legislature created county free fairs in 1915, and Joe and his mother Nannie donated 40 acres for the Washington County Fairgrounds. That is still the site of the Washington County Free Fair. A 7,000-seat grandstand was built along with a one-half mile racetrack and several exhibit buildings. During World War I, all but one of the Round Ups were held to raise money for the Bartlesville and Dewey chapters of the Red Cross.

Burned SchoolThe town invested $56,000 in 1910 in a new school which burned 22 months later due to defective wiring in the attic. The city waterworks was not operating, and fire hoses had been impounded by the railroad in a dispute, so firemen never put any water on the fire. The outer walls and columns survived, so the school was rebuilt in 1912 with new concrete floors and a concrete roof by the Dewey Portland Cement Company. Decades later, College High in Bartlesville would be built of monolithic concrete to prop up Dewey Portland in the later years of the Great Depression.

Lincoln School

The building eventually was named Lincoln School. It was demolished in 1973.

The Dewey: Oklahoma's First Airplane

Oklahoma's first commercially built airplane was built in Dewey, making its maiden flight on Christmas Day, 1917, with Billy Parker at the controls. The "Dewey" made its first public flight on New Year's Day, 1918, with Joe Bartles as the first passenger. As the country entered World War I, Joe Bartles went to Washington, DC to offer land north of Dewey for an airplane factory and flying school. The flight instructors were William Cook and Billy Parker, and the factory closed at the end of the war after building ten planes. Parker's school closed in 1912 and he began barnstorming across the midwest. He joined Phillips Petroleum in 1926 and later headed their aviation division.

Pistol Pete and Joe Bartles Joe Bartles lost his money in the Great Depression of the 1930s, selling all of the original furniture from the hotel. He retained a roll top desk he used in one of his stores. He is pictured here with Frank Eaton, the famous Pistol Pete, who grew up near Bartlesville at Exendine.

Outlaw Henry Starr's grave is in the Dewey Cemetery, marked by a blank headstone.

Dewey PortlandDewey also owes much to the Tyler family. Frank and Herbert Tyler moved there in 1906. They incorporated the Dewey Portland Cement Company in 1906 with a $1,000,000 in capital and this plant produced the first cement in the state when it began operating in 1908. The plant was the first ever to use concrete silos for the storage of cement. The company was also a large supplier of crushed stone. Tom Mix, the famous movie cowboy, was working at the cement plant when he was "discovered" by a film crew in the area.

Don TylerIn 1927, Herbert Tyler went to Davenport, Iowa to start another plant and his son, Don (pictured), became plant manager. Don became known as a financier, oil producer, and cattle breeder. When the plant was in danger of a shutdown in 1939, employees successfully petitioned for Bartlesville's new College High School to be built of concrete. Before his retirement in 1953, Don Tyler gave the city its library, a park, and the agricultural building at the county fairgrounds. The library Don Tyler provided has two of Jacob Bartles' mill burrs set in its wall. The American-Marietta Company (later Martin-Marietta) bought the stock of the Portland Cement Company in the 1960s and the new owners built a plant in Tulsa. Soon afterwards, the Dewey plant's production declined and it went through a cycle of closings and reopenings until finally closing after more than 60 years of operation. Oilfield Pipe and Supply Company acquired the Dewey Portland site in 1983.

In late 2004 Oilfield Pipe and Supply Company cleared the Dewey Portland site for steel inventory. Below are photos of the smokestacks demolition on December 10, 2004 taken by Becky Burch and Michael Howze, as published in the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise.

Dewey Portland demolition
Before Demolition After Demolition

Today east of the former plant Bison Materials operates a quarry along a limestone draw.

Washington County Carrel