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PORTER

Located between Tulsa and Muskogee in Wagoner County on State Highway 51B, Porter and its surrounding area were important in the development of the Creek Nation before the Civil War. Fort Gibson, established on the Grand River about a mile north of the Arkansas River, facilitated the relocation of many Creek into the vicinity. Farming, ranching, and coal mining became a staple of the local economy. Clarksville, a settlement four miles south of present Porter, served the locals and was the birthplace of Pleasant Porter, later chief of the Creek Nation. With the growth of local industries, including a burgeoning fruit orchard business, a need for better transportation materialized. In 1903 the Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (later the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway) built a line from Wybark near Muskogee, to Osage, near what is now Tulsa. Part of the requirement for this section of track was to develop three towns, each with a depot, approximately equally spaced between Wybark and Osage. Porter, Coweta, and Broken Arrow were selected.

The Post Office Department established Porter's post office on June 1, 1903. The track-laying crew reached Porter on December 29, 1903. By that time land promoters were busy setting up businesses and selling home sites. Advertisements in the Muskogee newspapers listed a bank, a cotton gin, a mill, and a lumberyard operating by the time the first train ran six months later. Many of Clarksville's businesses and residents relocated to Porter to be near the railroad, creating instant growth for the new town.

Incorporated in 1905, the town's name honored Pleasant Porter. By 1907 statehood there were three banks, two cotton gins, and a thriving community with a school and churches. Some of the richest farmland in the area, located between the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers, also brought in businesses and settlers. The 1910 population stood at 637 residents. The Porter Capital, Porter Enterprise, Porter Exponent, and Porter News have served the town since the early twentieth century.

During World War I the need for extra food and fiber fueled the area's development. Potatoes emerged as one of Wagoner County's largest cash crops. Porter grew, accommodating three drugstores, three doctors, a funeral parlor, and two hotels. The town's size continued to increase through the postwar era. In 1919 a tornado heavily damaged most of the store buildings, wreaking great economic loss to businesses and residences. Without insurance, many residents did not rebuild, and the town never quite recovered. However, many hardy people stayed. Farm products remained the economic mainstay. Area farmers raised potatoes, cotton, and corn, and had peach and apple orchards. Ranching and coal-mining contributed income. The 1920 population was 597. Beginning in the late 1920s, the Great Depression affected Porter, as it did many Oklahoma towns. Government work projects, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and individual perseverance kept the town alive. A new school was built and the old one remodeled.

During World War II the economy improved. With many moving to work in the war industry, as well as young men joining the military, the population decreased. Late in 1942 a large number of German and Italian soldiers were captured and interned in the United States. The federal government located a major prisoner of war facility at Camp Gruber near Muskogee. Because of the need for farm labor, Camp Gruber set up local subcamps. Porter's WPA building housed many prisoners until the end of the war when they began to be repatriated. In 1940 and 1950 the census reported a population of 562. The area's loss of population revealed itself in the schools, with a 1949 graduating class of only thirteen students, about half the size of the 1939 class.

Commercial orchards have provided an economic mainstay. In the 1890s Ben Marshall, a Creek allotee, had grown peaches planted for the local market. Peaches emerged as a major cash crop after 1904 when he received a Gold Medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for his peaches' quality. In 1967 Porter began a Peach Festival that continued into the twenty-first century. At one time six major commercial orchards operated, but imports and labor shortages have dropped the number to one large and two to three small operations.

With the development of State Highway 51 a few miles to the north, locals could drive quickly to larger towns to work and to shop. Many local merchants closed, but agriculture and fruit production supported the economy. In the late 1960s State Highway 51B was built through downtown Porter, further increasing trade. From the 1940s to the 1960s the area supported one of the largest John Deere dealerships in northeastern Oklahoma. The 1960 population of 492 climbed to 642 in 1980. By the mid-1980s the growth of Tulsa and Muskogee led many people to commute there to work. Access to the Muskogee Turnpike gate two miles north of Porter helped revitalize the small town.

In 1978 the Van Tuyl Homeplace near the town was listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 78002276). In December 2003 Porter celebrated its centennial with a special program including an exhibit, a local history lecture, reenactors, and wagon and carriage rides. The 2000 population stood at 574.

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). Wagoner County History (Wagoner, Okla.: Oklahoma Extension Homemakers Council, 1980).

Gene Stone

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