Situated in the lower northeastern corner of Comanche County, Sterling lies at the intersection of State Highways 17 and 65. Thirteen miles west of U.S. Highway 81, the town is north of State Highway 7 and almost equidistant to Lawton and Duncan, allowing easy access to both. The Sterling post office was established in October 1901, just months after the 1901 land lottery opened Comanche County to general settlement. The town was named after Capt. Charles Sterling, a Texas Ranger who ran cattle in the area prior to 1901.
Through the 1930s Sterling had a gravel highway connecting it to U.S. Highway 277 on the west and another gravel road extending though Grady County to reach U.S. Highway 81. Subsequently, these roads were paved and incorporated into the state system as State Highway 17. Without rail access, all goods in and out of Sterling were carried overland. This did not hamper the community's development, as a variety of businesses sprang up to serve area farmers and ranchers. By the 1930s the town boasted forty commercial establishments, including two cotton gins, four cream stations, four filling stations, three hardware stores, one mill and feed company, and a telephone company. Relying largely on the surrounding agricultural community for economic support, Sterling also enjoyed a fair amount of oil and gas activity through the decades. Early wells were drilled in the vicinity in the 1910s, with more significant activity occurring in the middle decades of the twentieth century. By the early 1960s the town enjoyed three grocery stores, a hardware store, four service stations, two garages, two cafes, a department store, a self-service laundry, and a small medical clinic with a resident doctor. Twenty years later the town had two service stations, two restaurants, a meat-packing business, a bank, and a grocery store, as well as a variety of other small enterprises.
In 1910 the population of Sterling was noted as 276, an increase of fifty-seven from the previous census three years earlier. By 1920, however, the town had only 265 residents. Gaining nearly a hundred, the 1930 population registered at 361. Continuing to grow, there were 430 citizens in Sterling in 1940. Holding relatively stable, the 1950 population went up by just seventeen. Spurred by oil and gas developments in the area, by 1960 the number of inhabitants jumped to 562 and continued to climb to reach 675 in 1970. Although still increasing, the number of citizens in 1980 grew by just twenty-seven to top 700 for the first time. Decreasing for the first time in six decades, the 1990 population fell to 684 before regaining residents to number 762 in 2000.
Sterling has not had a local newspaper since the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Sterling Star was issued between 1902 and 1905, with the Comanche County Farmer running for at least a year during those years. Beginning in about 1910, the Sterling News circulated for a short time, with the Oklahoma Leader printing from 1911 through 1916. The last newspaper, the Oklahoma Ledger, was published from the mid-teens into the early 1920s.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The History of Comanche County, Oklahoma (N.p.: Southwest Oklahoma Genealogical Society, 1985). Audrey Routh, "Sterling Looking to Rapid Growth," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 7 July 1963. George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974). "Sterling," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
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