The seat of Bryan County and located in its western quarter, Durant is situated at the intersection of U.S. Highways 69/75 and 70, fifty-two miles east of Ardmore and seventy-six miles southwest of McAlester. Occupation of the townsite began in November 1872 when a wheelless boxcar was placed on the east side of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway tracks. In 1873 Dixon Durant erected the town's first building, a wooden store, on the east side of the boxcar. Named "Durant Station" for his family, it was shortened to Durant in 1882.
Since the first settlers came to the area, agriculture has remained the town's economic base. The primary commercial crops were peanuts, cotton, wheat, and cattle. By 1902 there were eight churches, sixteen groceries, sixteen physicians, five hotels, fifteen attorneys, an ice plant, and numerous other businesses. Growth continued rapidly, due to a rapid influx of mixed-blood Choctaws and whites. Very few full-bloods lived in Bryan County at the time.
In 1894 the Presbyterian Church opened the Calvin Institute, which evolved into Durant Presbyterian College and closed in 1966 as the Oklahoma Presbyterian College. On March 6, 1909, the Oklahoma Legislature approved the establishment of Southeastern State Normal School at Durant. In 1921 the institution became Southeastern State Teachers College and in 1974 Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
In 1999 the state legislature proclaimed Durant "the Magnolia Capital of Oklahoma," and the town annually hosts a Magnolia Festival the weekend following Memorial Day. Oklahoma Gov. Robert L. Williams resided in Durant. In 1975 Chief David Gardner located the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation in the former Oklahoma Presbyterian College buildings. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Durant continued to grow with wholesale, retail, and light manufacturing businesses supported by one of the top-ranked public school systems in the state.
The 1890 census did not include Durant in its list of important towns. In 1900 the population was 2,969, and 5,330 in 1910, rising to 12,823 in 1990 and to 13,549 in 2000. The Bryan County Courthouse (NR 84002974), Robert E. Lee School (NR 88001374), Oklahoma Presbyterian College (NR 76001556), Robert Lee Williams Public Library (NR 88001375), and the J. L. Wilson Building (NR 82003668) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lowell L. Blaisdell, "Anatomy of an Oklahoma Lynching: Bryan County, August 12-13, 1911," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 79 (Fall 2001). Henry MacCreary, A Story of Durant: "Queen of Three Valleys" (Durant, Okla.: Democrat Printing Co., 1946). James C. Milligan, L. David Norris, and Ann Vanmeter, Durant, 1872-1990 (Durant, Okla.: Bryan County Heritage Association Inc., 1990). L. David Norris, Southeastern Oklahoma State University Since 1909, Vol. 1 (Durant, Okla.: Mesa Publishing Co., 1986).
Keith L. Milligan
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