Located “on the sunny side of the Arbuckles”, Ardmore, OK is not only a business, cultural, and tourism city, it is the county seat of Carter County, Oklahoma. The 2010 census listed the population as just over 24,000, with smaller neighboring communities bringing the total to almost 57,000. Located at the junction of I-35 and US Highway 70 and equidistant from Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and Oklahoma City, OK, Ardmore is generally considered the hub of a 10-county region in south central Oklahoma also known as Arbuckle Country. Lake Murray, a WPA project, is located just seven miles from Ardmore and attracts fishing, boating, and water-sport enthusiasts from all over Texas and Oklahoma. To the north, the Arbuckle Mountains, a geological treasure, offer panoramic vistas and, at Turner Falls, one of the most beautiful natural waterfalls in Oklahoma. Legend has it that frontier-day outlaws and bank robbers used the mountains and caves as hideouts.
The city of Ardmore was named after the affluent Philadelphia suburb and historic Pennsylvania Main Line stop Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The name “Ardmore” is Gaelic and means “high ground or hills”.
In the summer of 1887, long before anyone knew of its proximity to the oil-rich Healdton field, the city of Ardmore, Indian Territory started life as little more than a plowed ditch for a Main Street. Owing much of its existence and prosperity to the Santa Fe Railroad, Ardmore grew over the years, as most frontier towns did, into a trading outpost for the region. In 1895 a fire destroyed most of the fledgling town, forcing residents to rebuild.
In the early 1900s, Ardmore became well known for its abundance of cotton-growing fields and eventually became known as the world’s largest inland cotton port. Early photos of Ardmore depict a Main Street traffic jam as hundreds of wagons lined up waiting to get to The Cotton Exchange, now a beautifully restored building offering retail shopping and loft apartments.
In 1913, Ardmore had the exceedingly good fortune to find itself positioned adjacent to one of the largest oil fields ever produced in Oklahoma, the Healdton Oil Field. As mass production of Henry Ford’s contraption, the automobile, created unprecedented demand for oil and gas, entrepreneurs and wildcatters soon flooded the area. Carter County, with Ardmore as its county seat, quickly became the largest oil-producing county in Oklahoma – a distinction it holds to this very day. Ardmore has remained an energy center ever since, with the region’s natural wealth producing such energy giants as Halliburton and Noble Energy among others.
In 1915 a second disastrous explosion and fire destroyed much of downtown, including the depot and areas rebuilt after the 1895 fire. Undeterred, the disaster gave residents the resolve to establish the city’s first fire department to ensure no such devastation would occur again.
Ardmore has been blessed with riches far beyond most cities of its size, as well as a colorful past that sometimes accompanies such “instant” wealth. Such wealth has been channeled into many philanthropical endeavors as well as reinvested into various art and infrastructure endowments. Central Park, with its historic bandstand and lush landscaping serving as the gateway to downtown, and the Charles B. Goddard Center for the Visual and Performing Arts are but two examples of our town’s generous philanthropists. The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, The Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation, and The Westheimer Foundation have all contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy through grants, scholarships, and endowments.
Artists, musicians, scholars, inventors, oil titans, professional athletes, actors, cowboys, Biggest Loser contestants, and yes, a shady character or two, all proudly call Ardmore home. Recently named by USA Today as one of “the top 10 places in America to live”, it’s easy to see why. To learn more about Ardmore’s past, visit the Greater Southwest Historical Museum.
Today, Ardmore is home to a still-bustling Main Street, many of the same buildings from 1915 and earlier having been restored and in some cases “reinvented”. The Santa Fe Depot, the original heart of the frontier town, has been lovingly restored to its former glory and serves as a stop for Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer, offering daily service from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. Heritage Hall, home to many a dance, concert, and sporting event, still serves as a convenient downtown entertainment destination. Historic buildings from Ardmore’s early frontier town days have been transformed into retail shops, art galleries, restaurants, and trendy loft apartments, all offering a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of big-city living. . .a place where friends and neighbors gather to create a new history.
Ardmore’s indomitable pioneer spirit, born from that first plowed red dirt ditch, is alive and well.
Come home. . .see what you’ve been missing.