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TULSA oil find marks 100th year

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ One hundred years ago, Tulsa's first oil well drew thousands overnight in what would mark the city's ascent to ``Oil Capital of the World.''

The discovery of the Sue Bland No. 1 on June 25, 1901, was remembered Monday by boosters who gathered at a historical marker beside an out-of-the-way section of Route 66.

In the century since the find, Tulsa's oil economy went bust and its claim to the oil capital title was effectively ceded to Houston.

But city and business leaders look to the oil well site and the historic highway to draw tourists and new residents to a blue-collar section of town diced by limited-access freeways and severed from the rest of Tulsa by the Arkansas River.

The oil well was discovered in what was then the town of Red Fork. Within a few days, several thousand speculators descended to check things out, said David Breed, a local historian and executive director of the Southwest Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.

``This received a lot of attention at the time because it was so unusual,'' he said.

It hastened oil drilling and led to the discovery of the massive Glen Pool field south of Tulsa in 1905.

That find touched off the city's major oil rush and syphoned interest and population from Red Fork. Tulsa also won out in a competition with Red Fork and Sapulpa for civic supremacy in the region and later annexed Red Fork and the nearby communities of West Tulsa, Carbondale, Oakhurst and Garden City.

Southwest Tulsa, the collective name for Red Fork and the others, now includes an industrial area with a refinery, petroleum tank farm and rail yard. Officials count 900 businesses throughout the section, but there are few large-scale retail developments around Red Fork.

The locals still see themselves as separate from the rest of the city and often talk about ``going over to Tulsa,'' Breed said.

A vacant, crumbling motel and several small brick buildings like those in little country towns dot a section of Route 66 called Southwest Boulevard, which is hidden behind the banks of a major freeway.

Large, expensive homes are being built around a southwest Tulsa country club and another separate golf course. But officials are concerned about Red Fork's neighborhoods, where some homeowners have lived for 50 to 60 years.

As the elderly die or move to nursing homes, boosters fear the homes will be converted to rental properties and quickly decay at a time when city projects are geared to improve the area.

``We're not seeking businesses so much as we're seeking people,'' said John Gray, president of the area chamber and owner of Ollie's Station Restaurant, across the street from the oil well historical marker.

Boosters are counting on city plans to install hike and bike trails along the boulevard to help beautify the area and make it more attractive to both tourists and residents.

A study could also lead to other beautification projects, said Randi Miller, a resident and representative for the area on the Tulsa City Council.

In the meantime, the oil well site reminds the locals of their storied past, Breed said.

``We remember where we were 100 years ago and where we are today,'' he said.
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