Downtown Street Names
Have you ever wondered where some of Poteau’s street names came from? Here’s a short list of some of the more interesting street names.
Early Poteau (1885-1900)
Beard Avenue: Named after Walter Beard. Mr. Beard had a blacksmith shop located on the southern corner of Beard and Broadway. His large home was located at the end of that road. He was a local real estate mogul and amassed great wealth by purchasing land from the Choctaw Indian. Beard Avenue was one of the largest streets in Poteau at the time and was considered part of the main business district.
Fleener Avenue: Named after Melvin Flener. Mr. Flener was a railroad man who established a supply camp on the north corner of Fleener Avenue and Broadway. When the railroad moved through, he decided to stay and opened up Poteau’s first hotel. Called The Flener House, this was the largest and most opulent in the region. Around 1898, all of the businesses burned that were located between Beard and College, the Flener House among them. As an aside, you’ll notice the name of the road has been misspelled. The street has been partially cut off with the courthouse addition.
Church Street: Named after the First Baptist Church that sat on the Northeast corner of Church and Green. This large wood-frame church was built in a joint effort between the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church. At the time, it was the largest church building in Poteau.
Broadway: Until the KCS railroad entered the picture and the great fire of 1899, the downtown area centered between Beard and Green Avenues. During that time, Broadway was known as Railroad Street. This was a dirt road that ran along either side of the railroad tracks, from the edge of the courthouse lawn to the edge of the McKenna Building (Crossfit). At a width of 300 feet, there was little control over how people used the road, except when the trains rolled in.
As Poteau grew, the town became more organized. The name of this road was then changed to Main Street in 1899, and then again to West Main and East Main by 1904. By 1916, with the automobile heavily in use in Poteau, West Main became Front Street, since it “fronted” the railroad depot. By the 1940’s, this road was becoming known as Broadway.
Dewey Avenue: Dewey Avenue, the heart of Poteau, was named after a man who had never even been to Poteau. This road was named in honor of Admiral George Dewey of the U.S. Navy. George Dewey (December 26, 1837 – January 16, 1917) was Admiral of the Navy, the only person in U.S. history to have attained the rank. Admiral Dewey is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War.
Witte Street; Witteville Road: Both streets were named after Gerhard H. Witte. Mr. Witte was a German immigrant who made his way to Poteau in 1887. Shortly after arriving, he founded the Witteville Coal Mines on Cavanal Mountain (Hill). His home remained in Poteau. While building up the town of Witteville, he ran a railroad spur from the KCS tracks up to the center of the town. Witteville Road follows the old train route that led to the town of Witteville. Mr. Witte was also the first person to install a telephone line. The line ran from the back of his house up to the operating station at Witteville. G.H. Witte was also mayor of Poteau from 1890 to 1900, and again in 1907, but resigned due to health issues. Witte Street is named in honor of G. H. Witte.
McKenna Street: Named after Captain Edward McKenna. Mr. McKenna was an early day land broker and banker. His most notable accomplishment in Poteau was the building of the McKenna Building, which was the first permanent structure in Poteau and later became home to the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Indian Territory. Mr. McKenna later became president of The National Bank of Poteau.
Captain McKenna was a very wealthy man and was respected by many. As quoted from Shawnee Times, February 20, 1910, “Captain Edward McKenna of Poteau, one of the wealthiest citizens of eastern Oklahoma, died at his home here today. McKenna has been in this vicinity thirty years. He was a captain in the Confederate Army and at his death was brigadier general of the Oklahoma Division of Confederate Veterans.”
Shaw Ave/Shaw Blvd: Both of these streets were named after former Poteau mayors Judge D.A. Shaw and Nora Shaw. Nora Shaw was Oklahoma’s first woman mayor.
Bagwell Street: Named after C.M. Bagwell. Mr. Bagwell was a prominent Poteau attorney and former Mayor. He was mayor from 1917 to 1918.
Harper Street: Named for Benjamin Hunter Harper. Mr. Harper was one of the earliest settlers in the region. A Choctaw plantation owner, he owned all of the land that existed between the Frisco tracks and the KCS tracks. Long before the railroad came through Poteau, Mr. Harper had established a large cotton plantation that covered all of the downtown area. His house was located on the corner of Harmer and Rogers. During his time, he owned over 100 freedmen workers and was one of the largest cotton farms in the area. With the arrival of the KCS and the concurrent development of Dewey, Mr. Harper found new wealth in selling off his land to wealthy businessmen.
A Historic Downtown Poteau “Scavenger” Hunt
[ ] The Outhouse: Tucked away on a side street, this oddity has remained a mystery for years. Often overlooked, the outhouse was built back in the 1920’s, however, no documentation for it exists and nobody knows the story behind this unique brick structure.
[ ] The Leaning Tower of Poteau : This building, while structurally sound, “twists” as it rises. At ground level, the building is perfect square, however, as the building rises higher, it twists and leans towards the “left”. The building was originally built on soft soil which caused it to sink over the years. By the 1920’s, the building had finally settled, but, because of this, the building is permanently twisted.
[ ] Oklahoma’s Oldest Fire Hydrant: While not proven, it is a strong possibility that the fire hydrant located on Witte next to Central National Bank is Oklahoma’s oldest working fire hydrant. It was one of the few that was installed in Poteau at statehood, and is the only one remaining from that time. The next closest hydrant dates to the 1940’s.
[ ] Poteau’s only remaining parking meter: During the 1940’s and 1950’s, each parking space along Dewey, Witte, and McKenna had a parking meter. In 1953, newspapers reported that the city collected $300 a day. $300.00 in 1953 had the same buying power as $2,638.34 in 2015. As surburbia became in vogue and downtown started to decline, most of the parking meters were removed. However, this one was left upon request from the owner of the store adjacent to it.
[ ] Ghost Signs:
- “Grocery Flour Feed”
- “LeFlore County Sun”
- “Reed for Senator”
- “Noble Bird Drug Store”
- “Popes Garage”
[ ] 1940’s New Deal Mural (post office): “Cotton”, Joan Cunningham, 1940; The post office contains a 1940 Treasury Section mural “Cotton” painted by Joan Cunningham. The image is a multi-scene view of cotton production that shows a large number of people involved in various aspects of production and shipping, the emphasis is on cotton, reputedly also about the domination of man on the land.
“Often mistaken for WPA art, post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as “the Section,” it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. Headed by Edward Bruce, a former lawyer, businessman, and artist, the Section’s main function was to select art of high quality to decorate public buildings if the funding was available. By providing decoration in public buildings, the art was made accessible to all people.”
[ ] Black Masonic Lodge (Northeast Blvd and Clayton): Located just outside of Historic Downtown Poteau, most people mistake the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge for a barn. Prince Hall Freemasonry is a branch of North American Freemasonry founded by Prince Hall in the 18th century and composed predominantly of African Americans. This lodge had a very large following for many years.