It marks the end of the Trail of Tears and the beginning of a new life far from home. It is a serene place, one where you can sit and feel the weight of the past and all it has given us. The little park at 18th and Cheyenne isn’t just a plot of land. It is sacred ground.
At the center of the little park is a large and stately burr oak tree that marks the site of Tulsa’s first “city hall”–a cluster of log cabins, built circa 1836 by the Lochapocka tribe of the Creek Nation
Like the present City Hall, the first city hall and the area surrounding it was once the focus of a community-conscious investment group. Ownership of the property had changed hands several times, from the Creeks in 1915 to Harry Sinclair, who built a mansion on the grounds where the log-hewn city hall had once stood, then to Oral Roberts (whose evangelistic association razed the mansion), then on to a Texas investor, who sought a zoning change to turn the Council Oak Tree land into a parking lot, sparking a legal battle that went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. During the drawn-out legal proceedings, the property slipped into foreclosure. An auction was scheduled for October 2, 1978, at 10:00 a.m. The fate of the Council Tree was now in the hands of the public.
The day before the auction, H. D. “Nat” Henshaw, recognizing the importance of preserving this historical site, quickly assembled a like-minded group of investors to present a bid at the sheriff sale. The group’s bid was successful, and three years later The Council Tree was listed in the Register of Historic Places, preserving in perpetuity this ceremonial ground for the benefit of the Creek Nation and the public.
At a time when City Hall is back in the news, lessons from this little park become all the more relevant. Community spirit finds its expression through many hearts, whether it is a developer’s rescue of an endangered building in our civic center, or Nat Henshaw and friends finding a way to celebrate our commitment to multi-culturalism, or the numberless other protectors of civic activism who’ve shaped our city. Tulsa is beautiful because we’ve been blessed by philanthropists and visionaries who refuse to allow our heritage to be turned into a parking lot, who can see what we have before it’s lost–and who do something about it.
Tulsans have a history of both rescuing and destroying their architectural heritage. Let this little park be a big reminder that there is more to buying and selling real estate than just making money.
Photo: TulsaTopics on Flickr