The Obelisk Stands At Perpetual Attention, Rising From The Dusty Intersection Like A Totem Of A Lost Civilization.
Layers of spray-painted graffiti bubble its sloped sides, which end 21 feet above the gravel road that runs between Davenport and Stroud.
Though stripped of its lettering, its lights and all clues to its purpose, the concrete marker maintains a quiet dignity. It jars the senses like a post-apocalyptic Washington Monument that had been vandalized, shrunk and transported to a crossroad across from a cow pasture in Lincoln County.
The events that led to its construction began exactly 100 years ago this month, at a meeting in Stroud. The topic at hand: a plan to bring traffic and attention to Stroud by building a stretch of road that would be part of the fledgling network of highways.
At the time, Oklahoma had more miles of railroads than roads. Even a decade later, in 1925, only one mile in 10 was paved. But a regional patchwork of auto trails was taking shape.
What railroads were to the 19th century, roads would be to the 20th century, and Stroud wanted to be part of the boom.
Early motorists traveling through the region were guided not by metallic highway signs but by hand-painted markers on tree trunks and telephone poles and barns to show the preferred route. Through the states of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, the route was indicated by a patch of white paint framed on top and bottom by a green stripe.
In the center were two letters, hand-painted in green: “OT.”
It signified they were traveling one of the roads of the Ozark Trail.
The Ozark Trail was designed to follow not the well-worn, south-to-north paths of the cattle trails to the west, but the east-west routes connecting cities like St. Louis and Kansas City to Joplin, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and eventually west to El Paso and Santa Fe, linking to existing roads and branching out to smaller towns along the way.
Stroud was determined to build a stretch worthy of Ozark Trail designation. In its coverage of the April 1915 meeting, the Stroud Democrat alluded to lasting grandeur, referring to the Roman Empire when it reported: “It will be but the beginning of a permanent road to last perhaps as long as the Appian Way … Farms all along the route will rapidly increase in value, tributary roads will be built to the main line, and everybody will be happy to walk or drive along such a road.”
There was no state or federal system set up to construct such a road. If the people of the town wanted it, they would have to build it themselves.
Within two weeks, the newspaper reported that local residents had joined to work on the thoroughfare with their own equipment, “building culverts, some driving teams, some plowing, some blowing stumps, and removing rock, some grading and some shoveling.” The road soon met with the approval of the regional Ozark Trail organizers, and traffic flowed into Stroud.
By 1920, the town was offered the honor of hosting one of the OT’s landmark pyramid markers. It would announce travelers’ arrival in Stroud and list other destinations and the distances to reach them.
The Ozark Trail Monument was installed with fanfare in downtown Stroud in the spring of 1920, in the middle of the intersection of Third and Eighth. Its cost of $476 was raised through local donations.
The new marker gleamed with three coats of white enamel and accents of green. Five electric lights were wired near the top: one shining down on each of the four sides, to illuminate the names of towns and the distances to each. A red beacon glowed on top, serving as a lighthouse on the prairie.
The proud town promised “the lights will be kept burning all night” so travelers could read the lettering on the monument, announcing its coveted designation as part of the Ozark Trail.
As the Roaring Twenties continued, the number of vehicles on the road doubled and doubled again.
In 1926, the local Ozark Trails section was incorporated as part of Route 66. As traffic continued to swell, town boosters conceded that the large concrete monuments in the middle of a busy road were a traffic hazard.
Some of the Ozark Trail markers were destroyed. At least one was buried. Some were moved.
Sometime around the arrival of Route 66, Stroud’s marker was relocated to the quieter intersection closer to Davenport. By 1930, however, that section was bypassed when a more direct, paved route was built to the north and became a new section of Route 66. Overnight, the rush of traffic slowed to a trickle.
The 95-year-old obelisk continues to stand guard, its original location and purpose forgotten by most who pass.
Its once bright white surface is now a dull coat of somber black. The bottom two-thirds of the tower, as far as vandals can reach, is caked in layers of neon graffiti. The pyramid point on top, however, remains unmolested. From its pinnacle, perhaps, is a view of the old Route 66 and the turnpike that replaced it, and century-old dreams of a road that was to last as long as the Appian Way.
“Its Architectural Significance Is High”
► The Ozark Trails Monument stands at the corner of two county roads: N3540 and E0890, at the eastern end of a 1.3-mile stretch of road that is now included on the National Historic Register. The segment – described as the Ozark Trails Section of Route 66 – begins east of Davenport, at the bridge over Dosie Creek just past the Frisco railroad crossing, and ends at the obelisk, about three miles southwest of Stroud.
In describing the marker, the successful application submitted in 2003 to the U.S. Department of the Interior, requesting historic status, stated: “Its architectural significance is high; moreover, it is one of only two such monuments surviving in Oklahoma [the second is in Logan County, at the corner of Washington and Logan streets in Langston, and known as the Indian Meridian Monument] and the only one associated with Route 66 in the state …
This monument is a concrete, square obelisk 21 feet tall and is comprised of two distinct parts, a cube-shaped base and a square obelisk above. The rectangular base measures 48 inches square and about 46 inches tall; the corners of the base are beveled and the base curves gracefully along its top to join with the obelisk rising from it. The sides of the obelisk taper as they rise until near the top when the object abruptly angles into a pyramid shape. The monument is plain and unadorned except for small portals beneath the pyramidal point; these square recesses once held electric light fixtures that illuminated the monument from above.
Editor’s note: This installment is part of author M.J. Alexander’s “77 Counties” series, chronicling her travels across Oklahoma. The full series is available at sliceok.com/travel/