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BENNINGTON

Located in eastern Bryan County, Bennington lies twenty miles east of Durant near U.S. Highway 70 on County Road E2075. The community originated in 1853 when Presbyterian minister A. G. Lansing established Mount Pleasant Mission Station near present Matoy in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. By 1855 Lansing left the operation to Rev. Charles C. Copeland, and the mission moved south several miles to escape the unhealthy conditions of the boggy bottom of its original, remote location. Copeland named this second enterprise Bennington Mission Station, in honor of a town near his home in Vermont.

In 1873 a post office was established, then disbanded in 1878, and reestablished in 1884. By that time John McDowell and a partner, named Brown, had erected a gin and a general merchandise store near the station, known as the Red Store. Over time several proprietors operated it, and other businesses came and went. At one time forty-five persons lived in the community. The settlement was called "The Store," while the church and mission were called Bennington.

In 1902 the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway built through the area and missed Bennington by two miles. Some of the buildings around The Store, and perhaps The Store itself, were dragged down to the railroad line, where a new town was established in 1903. Bennington grew quickly. In 1903 there were reportedly 250 people, along with six general merchandise/grocery stores, a dentist, two drug stores, a hotel, a livestock exchange, three blacksmiths, a lumberyard, a bank, and a newly moved post office.

In the early twentieth century several fires destroyed parts of the town. Still the population grew to 513 in 1910 and 915 in 1920, but 1930 showed a loss to 492. The Presbyterian church at the old location lost many members to the new church in town. A Baptist Church began in 1903, and a Methodist congregation soon followed. From 1904 to 1922 the Bennington Tribune served the town. The Bennington Journal reported from 1939 until 1946.

The population in 1940 stood at 513 residents, falling to a low of 226 in 1960, before rebounding to 302 in 1980. In 1976, a 1956 graduate of Bennington High School, Wes Watkins, was elected to the U.S. Congress. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Bennington showed its decline. Most of the old store fronts were gone, and businesses had moved away. The public school served a large rural area and existed as the busiest place in town. The 2000 census reported a population of 289.

SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Natalie Morrison Denison, "Missions and Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., Among the Choctaws, 1866-1907," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 24 (Winter 1946-47). The History of Bryan County, Oklahoma (Durant, Okla.: Bryan County Heritage Association, Inc., 1983).George H Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974).

Monty Olsen

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