Oklahoma’sHomes Reflect The State's Historical Past
Nestled in the Midsouth region of the country, Oklahoma – the 20th largest state in the U.S. – covers 69,903 square miles and is bordered by five states: Colorado and Kansas in the north, New Mexico in the West, Arkansas in the east, and Texas in the south. It’s the place where four cultural regions meet: the West, Midwest, South, and Southwest.
In this state of farmlands, hills, mountains, and man-made lakes lies an architectural landscape that is as historic and diverse as New England, California, the Carolinas, and other states with multicultural histories. From the beehive grass houses and earthen mounds constructed by indigenous Native tribes to small rustic cabins and farmhouses of the pioneers, the extravagant and marvelous mansions of the 1920s, and the 21st century’s glass-and-steel buildings, Oklahoma has a remarkable variety of architectural styles in its homes.
In 1889 when the U.S. Congress instituted a policy of phased openings of Indian lands by run, lottery, and auction, Oklahoma experienced immediate growth and expansion in some of its cities. Guthrie, in particular benefited from the Land Run of 1889, when overnight it gained 10,000 new residents who began to develop the town as a modern brick and stone “Queen of the Prairie.” While Guthrie lost its distinction as the first capital city of Oklahoma to Oklahoma City, it is nationally prominent for its collection of historic brick and stone buildings and its Victorian architecture “that provides a backdrop for Wild West and territorial-style entertainment, carriage tours, replica trolley cars, specialty shops, and art galleries”.
The architect responsible for many of Guthrie’s historic brick and stone buildings is Joseph Pierre Foucart, a Belgian-born immigrant, who became the first architect to establish a practice in Oklahoma. Foucart also designed two brick private residences.
The first mansion in Oklahoma City, the Overholser Mansion was built in 1903 for Henry Overholser (“father of Oklahoma City”). Designed by London-trained architect W.S. Matthews, the 11,700-square-foot brick and stone mansion displays touches of the Richardsonian Romanesque style: masonry stone work, gabled roofline, conical tower, and intricate sculpted shapes (photo credit: Overholser Mansion OKC by Urbanative under license CC BY-SA 4.0).
2. Victorian Architecture/The Queen Anne Style
Around the time of the 1889 Land Run, the Queen Anne style, one of the most colorful and decorative styles under the broad umbrella of Victorian architecture was at its peak popularity. Outside of Guthrie, Oklahomans were building Victorian style cottages and Queen Annes. There was a statewide fascination for the style’s fanciful and eccentric features, including multiple gables, wide overhanging eaves, multiple chimneys, painted balustrades, wooden or slate roofs, towers, turrets, and elaborate decor details.
Joseph Pierre Foucart designed this attractive brick and stone Victorian style home in Guthrie, OK. It has all the signature features that make it distinctly appealing – irregular roofline, dormers with fish-scale shingles, the round turret, decorative windows, and columns on the covered front porch (photo credit: Foucart Residence, Guthrie, Oklahoma, by Steven C. Price under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
Thia colorful 2-story Victorian home with 2,590 sq. ft. of living space has the elaborate décor elements and features of the style: gables, conical turret, spindlework on the porch railing, and all the intricate accents on the porch columns. The home has an open floor plan and includes 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, family room, dining room, kitchen with a walk-in pantry, a second floor master and laundry, and a covered rear patio (Plan #126-1248).
3. Early 20th Century – Diverse Styles
With the Queen Anne fading into the background in 1910, some other styles came into the picture and became popular. Among them were:
In contrast with the Revival styles that were also fashionable in Oklahoma during this period, the Art Deco was the first design to embody ideas of the Modern Age in architecture. The style came into prominence in 1922 – thanks to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen who submitted an Art Deco design for the Chicago Tribune Headquarters. While his design was rejected, it was publicized across the country and touted as an exciting new style.
After the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris in 1925, the Art Deco style enjoyed its brief time (1925 to 1940) in the limelight. And through that span, it had an impact on art, fashion, and furniture.
Art Deco style features include: a sleek, linear appearance, smooth wall surface decorative elements that use geometric forms, zigzags, chevrons, and set back front facade. Artist and designer Adah Robinson built her own Art Deco home and studio in 1924 with the help of architects Bruce Goff and Joseph Koberling. Constructed of hollow tile with leaded glass and terrazzo floors, the 1,400-square-foot home faces the park, has a two-story living room, a sunken conversation area with a fireplace, and an open balcony that runs the length of the room.
If you want to bask in Art Deco architecture, the place to visit is Tulsa with its collection of Art Deco gems – ranging from high-rise office buildings, schools, churches, and homes.
The geometric shape and clean wall surface of this 2-story, 4-bedroom modern home mimic Art Deco features. A textured glass wall divides the living and dining areas and opens to the pool with folding doors. Inside are a pool and hot tub. On the second floor are the bedrooms and a laundry room. Stairs lead to a sundeck above the garage (Plan #116-1081).
Colonial Revival (1910-1955)
A touch of early American life is embodied in the timeless and simple beauty of the Colonial Revival style. Typically rectangular with a symmetrical facade, these homes can be one, one-and-a-half, or two stories with a hip or side-gable roof with dormers. The front door is usually centered and accentuated with a pediment, columns, fanlight, or sidelights. Windows are multi-pane and symmetrical.
Listed on the the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance as a Colonial Revival style landmark in Tulsa, the James Alexander Veasey House was built in 1913. The 2-story home has clapboard siding and a gable roof with a dormer centered above the entrance (photo credit: James Alexander Veasy House by W. R. Oswald under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
Study in Symmetry: The exterior of this attractive 2-story, 4-bedroom Colonial style home features a hip roof and a covered front porch framed by tall, multi-pane arched windows. The upper floor has 3 windows with decorative shutters – with the center window directly above the entryway. Step into the foyer and then to a spacious Great Room with a living room, dining room, and kitchen with a breakfast nook (Plan #168-1138).
Mission Revival Style (1890-1915)
Quite simple with its unadorned stucco exterior walls, the style is made for regions with tropical climates like Oklahoma, California, the South, and the Southwest. Patterned after the minimalist and austere Spanish mission churches built in remote small towns, Mission Revival style homes have these features: shallow-slope roofs with red tiles, covered archways and windows, square towers, parapets, courtyards, and gardens.
This attractive 4,677-square-foot 2-story Spanish-Southwest style home with Mission Revival touches includes arched windows and entrance and, a parapet with a quatrefoil design. The amazing home includes 4 bedrooms, 3 full baths, 2 half baths, a guest room, and a workshop (Plan #134-1414).
4. How about Eclectic Styles?
Oklahoma is a complex mix of rural and urban forces with a historic collection of vernacular and sophisticated architecture. Coupled with the various cultures of its settlers, it’s not surprising to find many eclectic residential designs within the state.
We have the brick and stone mansions in Oklahoma City and Ponca City, Queen Annes in Guthrie and other amazing residences in Bartlesville, Norman, Stillwater, and Tulsa. From the pre-historic era to the 21st century, Oklahoma’s architectural landscape is lined with bungalows, Craftsman, Tudor, Prairie, contemporary, traditional, and ranch style homes.
A lovely 2-story 3-bedroom, 2-bath Craftsman Bungalow home has lots of space for comfortable living. With its open floor design, the home features a huge Great Room with the family room as the center. The bedrooms are located on the main floor – and flank the social areas. The second level presents the potential for a media room and a guest suite with its own bathroom (Plan #104-1064).
The beautifully landscaped front yard, inviting covered porch, brick-stone-wood exterior details, and large windows give this Ranch style home tremendous curb appeal. The fabulous residence comes with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a kitchen with an eating bar, a walk-in pantry, a laundry room. and a mudroom with lockers. The huge master suite is split from the other bedrooms and includes a master bath with split vanities, linen storage, a water closet, a tub, and a shower (Plan #142-1170).
A lot charm is packed in this 2-story 1268-sq.-ft. Contemporary-style home. There is a well-maintained front yard with colorful plants and flowers and a covered front porch. The home includes 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, and a kitchen with island and peninsula eating bar (Plan #158-1263).
A gorgeous 1.5-story, 4-bedroom Prairie home checks off many of the distinct characteristics of the style: a low-pitched or flat roof, clean horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, lots of large windows to allow natural light and easy access to porches and patios. There are 3.5 baths, a cozy fireplace in the Great Room, a spacious outdoor living area, a large utilities room, and a 3-car garage (Plan #149-1892).
For a whimsical and storybook look, go for this delightful 2-story, 4-bedroom Tudor style home. Check out its steep gable roofline with the decorative half-timbering, stucco and brick exterior, arched entryway, and tall small-pane windows. There's the Great Room with the kitchen situated between the separate breakfast room and dining room. The bedrooms are on the second floor – a large master suite with a master bath, 3 large bedrooms, and a bonus room (Plan #153-1750).
A Brief Look at Pre-1900 Oklahoma
The Pre-Historic Age Spiro Mounds
Long before the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe flew his flag over the beehive grass houses of Wichita Indian villages in the future state of Oklahoma, there was a Native American civilization that existed – and built permanent communities – in eastern Oklahoma, the seat of ancient Mississippian culture.
One of the most significant Native American sites in the country, the Spiro Mounds were created and used between 850 and 1450 AD by Caddoan speaking Indians. This civilization grew from a small farming village to a vital and sophisticated cultural center that influenced a large part of the Southwest region. It featured various styles of more than 40-foot-tall earthen mounds for religious, ceremonial, and residential purposes, and contained valuable art and artifacts dug from the burial mound.
The 12 mounds – one burial mound, two temple mounds, and nine house mounds – were constructed in layers from basket loads of dirt and were a supreme regional power with ceremonial areas and a support city. They were home to an extensive trade network, a working political system, and a highly developed religious center.
The Spiro Mounds remained undisturbed until the 1930s when a mining company bought the rights to dig into the Craig Mound – the second largest on the site. The miners dug haphazardly into the burial mound, destroyed about one-third of it, and “exposed a hollow burial chamber inside … that contained thousands of the most extraordinary pre-Columbian artifacts ever found in the United States.”
These included works made of stone, copper, shell, and fragile, perishable materials: textiles and feathers that had been uniquely preserved in the conditions of the closed chamber. The artifacts were sold to collectors throughout the world. A number of them have been recovered and returned to regional museums.
In 1935, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a licensing requirement for the protection of the site – and effectively shut down the mining company. From 1936 to 1941, University of Oklahoma archaeologists supervised scientific excavations and investigations of the Spiro Mounds site. The workers unearthed more than 600 complete or partial burials and thousands of artifacts. Excavations ended in 1941 because of the demands of the Second World War.
In 1969, the Spiro Mound Group was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. And in 1978 this unique and compelling part of Oklahoma’s past was established as the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center by the Oklahoma Historical Society. Today, it remains the first and only Oklahoma prehistoric American Indian archaeological site open to the public.
Early Log Cabins and Vernacular Buildings
Following the Louisiana Purchase – which included the Oklahoma Territory – much of the local architecture of both Native American and Anglo settlers was of log construction and replicated vernacular models prevalent in Appalachia. The homes reflected the materials – log/timber, sod/grass, limestone rock, stone – and resources available on the frontier. They included
• Simple one-room gable-end log cabins with covered porches extending across the front
• Saddlebags – structures with two rooms, each with its own hearth and chimney and windows
• Dogtrots – homes made up of two similar-size log cabins, all under a single roof and separated by an open hall or covered breezeway.
Considered to be the first home built in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the Beard Cabin was constructed in 1892 by the Ray (P.H. and daughter Etta) and Beard (John and sister Lola) families. Etta later married Henry Beard and became the first residents of the cabin. Sleeping spaces are on the upper floor of the cabin. In 1999, the historic Beard Cabin was restored and moved to its current location near the Santa Fe Depot on Main Street, Shawnee (photo credit: Public Domain).
A more typical log cabin – with its gable roof, porch that extends across the front of the home, and chimney – is Sequoyah's Cabin near Akins, Oklahoma. Between 1829 and 1844, the Cherokee Indian Sequoyah (also known as George Gist) lived in this cabin. Sequoyah is renowned for creating a written language for the Cherokee Nation in 1821 (photo credit: Sequoyahs Cabin by Tonya Stinson under license CC BY 2.0).
Homesteaders who could not find enough timber to build their homes were very creative in their use of available materials. For example, Marshall McCully, who participated in one of the largest Land Runs in 1893 turned to sod and built a two-room house in Cleo Springs in 1894. His materials were blocks of the thick buffalo grass on the Oklahoma prairie. McCully and his family lived in the sod house from 1894 to 1909 – after which they built a two-story frame house.
In 1963, the sod house was acquired by the Oklahoma Historical Society and in 1970 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original 2-room sod house built by Marshall McCully in 1894 for his family is similar to this one on the American prairie, circa 1901. It is the only remaining sod house in Oklahoma. The house is still located in Cleo Springs, and with the help of the Oklahoma Historical Society, a cover structure was built for the house to protect it from the elements (photo credit: Public Domain).
In the 21st century, log cabins are still popular with people looking for a quiet and tranquil place where they can enjoy nature’s beauty. How about life in this charming 2-story, 1362-sq.-ft. log cabin that is perfect as a vacation retreat, a “starter” home, or a cozy and peaceful haven for empty nesters. Built of natural wood, stones and other materials, this home has clean lines and attractive features – an inviting covered front porch, columns on stone pedestals, and dormers. It has 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, an open floor plan with a spacious family room, kitchen, and dining area (Plan #205-1018).
Remember, Oklahoma is not just a football town. It’s a storied architecture-rich State with amazing Art Deco homes, sprawling mansions, quaint Victorians, and towering industrial style homes that reflect its past, present, and future.
Footnote: The lead image in this article is an intriguing 2-story, 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Contemporary style home with Prairie influences. The 4,200-sq.-ft. home includes a family room with fireplace, a home office, a kitchen with breakfast nook, and a main-floor laundry room. For more details, go to Plan #126-1311.