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SAVANNA

Located in Pittsburg County approximately nine miles south of McAlester on U.S. Highway 69, adjacent to and east of the U.S. Army Ammunition Plant (opened in 1943 as the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot), Savanna can trace its origin to a dispersed rural settlement in the Choctaw Nation of the 1860s. A post office was established in the town on May 5, 1876, and in the 1880s, after coal mining developed, it became one of the larger towns in Indian Territory. An early point on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway between Denison, Texas, and Parsons, Kansas, Savanna supported a school, churches, a good hotel, stores, a doctor, a loading platform at the railroad, a bank, a cotton gin, and a jail. The mining corporations provided many of these businesses.

In its beginning farming and ranching served as the major economic base of the Savanna area, but soon after the discovery of coal in the 1870s, mining became the major industry. Mining companies built rows of two- and three-room houses for their workers. The town mushroomed, but after explosions in mines Number One and Number Two in 1887 left six miners and twelve rescuers dead, the Savanna Coal Mining and Trading Company closed the mines and moved their company houses to Lehigh. Savanna lost much of its population and floundered until 1907 statehood, after which it again became a prosperous but small community.

In 1896-97 Savanna residents constructed a wood-frame schoolhouse, which later burned, and in 1908 replaced it with a two-story, concrete-block building. In 1911 the town had approximately 450 residents and two general stores, two drugstores, a doctor, a barbershop, and two coal companies. In 1915 the Savanna News reported to the town but did not last the decade. Regenerated by the construction of the ammunition plant, by 1960 Savanna's population stood at 620, rising to 948 in 1970. Many residents work at the plant or commute to McAlester. Savanna has a fully equipped and accredited prekindergarten-through-twelfth-grade school system, with an enrollment of 513 in 2000. The town's 2000 population numbered 730.

SEE ALSO: COAL MINING DISASTERS, SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Pittsburg County, Oklahoma: People and Places (McAlester, Okla.: Pittsburg County Historical and Genealogical Society, 1997). Frederick L. Ryan, The Rehabilitation of Oklahoma Coal Mining Communities (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1935). Steve Sewell, "Amongst the Damp: The Dangerous Profession of Coal Mining in Oklahoma, 1870-1935," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 70 (Spring 1992). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965).

Lois Strickland

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