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AVERY, CYRUS STEVENS (1871-1963)

Born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania, on August 31, 1871, Cyrus Stevens Avery became an oil man and also one of Oklahoma's most well-known highway advocates and civic leaders. His parents, Alexander James and Ruie Stevens Avery, moved their family to Missouri circa 1881. Young Cyrus had little formal education but qualified at age nineteen to teach in a country school. From 1893 he worked his way through William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, graduating in 1897. In 1901 he moved to Oklahoma Territory. He sold life insurance in Oklahoma City, but in 1904 he moved his business to Vinita, expanding into real estate loans. As the oil industry emerged, he set up Avery Oil and Gas Company, relocating to Tulsa in 1907. He married Essie McClelland, a fellow Missourian, and the couple produced three children.

Avery was involved in many economic activities. He began experimental farming and cattle raising on land he acquired near Tulsa. He participated in residential development with the Woodland Park Development Company, and he served in local government, sitting on the Tulsa County Commission from 1913 through 1916. As a member of the Tulsa Water Board in the early 1920s, he was instrumental in creating the Spavinaw Lake project, which brought water to the rapidly growing city. But it was his involvement in the good roads movement that proved to be his greatest contribution to Oklahoma.

Believing that well-planned and maintained roads and a system of interstate highways would bring prosperity to his town and his state, "Cy" Avery joined and avidly promoted several transcontinental road associations. He joined the Oklahoma Good Roads Association and was president of the Albert Pike Highway Association from 1917 to 1927. A moving force in the pre World War I national Ozark Trail Association, he served as vice president and brought its national convention to Tulsa in 1916. The Ozark Trail Highway, designated across the nation and through Oklahoma in the early 1920s, evolved into U.S. Highway 66. Avery served as vice president of the U.S. 66 Highway Association in 1927. The U.S. Department of Agriculture placed him on the Joint Board of Interstate Highways in 1925 27. During this time he also served as a state highway commissioner, under Gov. Martin Trapp, from 1922 through 1926. Avery is noted for having implemented a gasoline tax to finance the Highway Department.

From the 1930s through the 1950s Avery remained active in business and public life while continuing to farm and raise purebred Hereford cattle on Lucky Ranch. A Democrat, he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1934 and in 1935 36 served as Works Progress Administration administrator for District One (Tulsa and twelve other counties). He worked briefly for the city of Tulsa in 1948 and as a salesman for the Lock Joint Pipe Company from 1950 to 1958, when he retired. "The Father of Good Roads in Tulsa County" died on July 2, 1963, in California.

SEE ALSO: HIGHWAYS, ROUTE 66, TRANSPORTATION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Cyrus Stevens Avery," Oklahoma and the Mid-Continent Oil Field, ed. Richard Lloyd Jones, et al. (Tulsa, Okla.: Oklahoma Biographical Association and James O. Jones Co., 1930). Ruth Sigler Avery, "Cyrus Stevens Avery," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 45 (Spring 1967). William P. Corbett, "Oklahoma's Highways: Indian Trails to Urban Expressways" (Ph.D. diss., Oklahoma State University, 1982).

Dianna Everett

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