An incorporated community in central Nowata County, Delaware is situated just west of U.S. Highway 169, approximately six miles north of Nowata and eighteen miles south of the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. Delaware was named after the Eastern Delaware tribe, whose members immigrated from Kansas to the area following a treaty made with the Cherokee in 1867. The town's beginnings can be traced to the building of the Kansas and Arkansas Valley Railway, which constructed a line through the vicinity in 1889. Before being named Delaware the place was known as Comana Switch, a site on the railroad where trains were transferred between tracks. Several houses were subsequently built nearby, and the location became more commonly known as Delaware. The name Delaware was firmly established by the time a post office was placed there on March 19, 1898.
Delaware's early identity as an agricultural community continued into the twenty-first century. Since the early 1900s, when the town's principal commodities included cattle and corn, its location and economic base have supported retail trade and businesses associated with the petroleum and, more recently, the construction industries. Covering less than one square mile at an elevation of 714 feet, the town is located on a rolling prairie a short distance west of the Verdigris River. The Missouri Pacific Railway presently runs north-south through the center of town. The Delaware News, the Delaware Eagle, and the Delaware Register were among the community's former newspapers.
In 1901 Delaware consisted of two houses surrounded by farmland. Soon thereafter, Marion Coons built a general store at the site, which inspired additional businesses and residents to locate in the settlement. The town's most notable change occurred as a result of the discovery of nearby oil fields in 1904-1905. That find prompted a rapid growth in population, quickly changing Delaware into a bustling boom town of four thousand inhabitants and numerous businesses, including thirteen saloons. However, Delaware grew too rapidly to be sustained. By 1907 statehood the number of residents had fallen to 108, which stands as the lowest population to date. During the next ninety-three years the number of citizens continued to fluctuate, from an official high of 804 in 1920 to 582 in 1950 and to 544 in 1980. In 2000 Delaware had a population of 456 and was governed by a city council.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: John Downing Benedict, Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma, Including the Counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig and Ottawa, Vol. 1 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922). "Delaware," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Felix M. Gay, History of Nowata County (Stillwater, Okla.: Redlands Press, 1957).
Gary L. Cheatham
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