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Located in northern Adair County, Watts is on U.S. Highway 59 near the confluence of the Illinois River and Ballard Creek, once Williams Creek. In the mid-nineteenth century Capt. Nathan Boone, youngest son of Daniel Boone, helped survey the area for a military road. Nearby is the original site of Fort Wayne, established in 1838. The Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS) laid tracks through the area in 1895-96, and in 1912 decided to relocate their division point from Stilwell to the Watts Switch, one mile north of Ballard. Overnight a tent city sprang up at the switch, and the hillside was populated by land speculators and gamblers as well as by legitimate business people from Ballard, construction workers, and KCS employees. The emerging town was named for John Watts (Young Tassel), a Chickamauga Cherokee chief whose family had settled in the region. The post office opened in L. J. Anderson's store on March 30, 1912.

Adair County's first sheriff Frank C. Adair and Frank Howard organized the Guarantee Bank. Several hotels and rooming houses have served the community, including the Van Noy Hotel, the Yellow Hotel, Watts Rooming House, and King's Rooming House. Early-day merchants included Sizemore and Son, Langley and Vandagriff, C. Daniels, H. V. Waldroop, L. J. Anderson, and the Hodge Brothers. There have been two drug stores, one operated by Blue Foreman and Nettie Ezell, and the other by Homer Lackey. The lumberyard relocated there from Ballard, and the Nelson Hardware store and two livery stables opened in the town. A. E. Willey owned a bakery; Austin Maples and Leo Davison had garages. A Stilwell man, nicknamed "Cigar" Smith, manufactured cigars. The town's doctors included A. J. Sands, I. W. Rogers, and a Dr. Ezell. W. G. White, who was justice of the peace, operated a telephone exchange, with his wife, Jennie, and daughter Nanny as operators. Past newspapers include the Watts Watchman published in the 1910s and the Watts Journal printed in the 1940s.

The school has always been the center of the Watts community. In 1913 residents built a three-story schoolhouse. In 1924 the building was razed and the bricks used to construct a new building. At the end of the twentieth century it served as part of an expanded campus. In 2000 the enrollment for the prekindergarten through twelfth grade was 376.

In 1913 the population was estimated at 300. In 1920 the U.S. Census officially recorded Watts's population at 396. This figure declined in 1930 to 353 and continued to fall, reaching 267 in 1950. By 1960 the town had gained one person, and by 1970 it had 326 inhabitants, before decreasing again, with a population of 303 in 1990.

The town that the railroad had built declined when the roundhouse, coal chute, water pump station, ice house, and water tower were not needed and were removed one by one. The depot was bulldozed in the 1980s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the little hillside town's businesses competed with those of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, just six miles north. In 2000 Watts residents still supported two thriving feed mill businesses, a school, a post office, three churches, three small businesses, a volunteer fire department, a water office, and the 1930s Works Progress Administration-constructed park. Most of the employed residents commuted to jobs in other towns. The 2000 population stood at 500.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 28 January 1912. History of Adair County: Including Flint and Goingsnake Districts (Cane Hill, Ark.: ARC Press, 1991).

Phyllis Hagan

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