After Fifty Years, Mannford Weathers Change Rather Well

Wednesday, October 31st 2012, 9:59 am
By: Dave Davis

Mannford has been through a lot of devastation and change in the past year, but change is nothing new for the Creek County community.

Fifty years ago, the whole town of Mannford had to move. Mannford has earned a reputation as a town of survivors, weathering devastating wildfires and powerful tornados. But what took place there in the early 1960s changed the town forever.

Not too many folks know what happened in the 60's and the evidence that is there is disappearing.

The town of Mannford was founded in 1903, but has only been where it is today for 50 years.

Most of the original town site is under feet of silt and brush. The site of Old Mannford is now a park northwest of the current town. The only real remnant you can see is the highway, old Highway 51, which ran right through Mannford. But everywhere else, nature is clearly winning the battle. And time and decay are putting up a good fight too.

Some pieces of the old town are preserved at the Mannford Historical Museum.

"This is a lot of stuff here from the old Post Office," said Al Shaeffer Museum Curator.

Al Shaeffer runs the museum, but says it's getting harder to keep up with maintenance and visitors are few and far between.

"I hope that kids 50 years from now will be able to come up here and look at all the cool stuff that's up here and be glad somebody's taken care of it," said Al Shaeffer.

Most of the items came from the old town. Some, like trophies from the original high school, literally had to be pulled out of a trash heap.

The most well preserved pieces of old Mannford are still lived in, many of the houses on one Mannford street were moved from the old town, in one piece.

Jesse Swift was a city attorney in old Mannford, and still remembers places.

"And across the street east was a Sinclair service station, and names owned by Dave Clegg and his family," said Jesse Swift.

And the reason for the move was the turbine of progress. The US Army Corps of Engineers started planning for Keystone Dam decades before it went online in 1968.

Those plans put old Mannford right in the middle of a flood plain so they had to move. The Keystone Dam forced a new town to be born for the people of Mannford and that left an impact on residents who had to find another place to live. When the dam did start churning, it was the second largest source of hydroelectric power in the state. It still cranks out hundreds of millions of kilowatts every year.

For his Master's thesis, Wayne Morgan interviewed residents who made the move from the old town to the new.

"So the Corps had a pretty good job on their hands just to convince those folks that they would be better off in the new town, if they relocated the entire city. And some of them went along with that, but there were many who didn't," said Wayne Morgan.

And the convincing worked. There were two votes taken, first, whether to move the town or disband and then to move the town to its current location. Both were passed unanimously. Morgan found that a large majority of residents were actually in favor of moving. But some never got over it.

"I had one elderly widow that I talked to and she believes that her husband's death was caused by the move...He grieved so much about moving and he was in fairly ill health at the time, and he just grieved himself to death, she thought," said Wayne Morgan.

"Oh lots of mixed feelings, lots of pros and lots of cons. Being a young man when that occurred in the late 50s and early 60s, I was in favor of progress. I could see the town itself was a typical Oklahoma, old town. Dying on the vine, so to speak," said Jesse Swift.

Fifty years of nature taking its course have almost erased the old town site, and many of the original residents are gone now. But there is a thread that connects the past to the present, from moving an entire town to tragic, natural disasters, the people of Mannford have always done what they needed to do to keep their town going and they've done it together.

"Mannford will be around for, I guess as long as man is around, I hope so," said Jesse Swift.