As many times as I have been up and down Highway 169, I rarely venture off the main road. I have seen signs indicating life down these back roads and have even promised myself that I would turn down them on my way back. It never happens. I just keep going, never stopping, never letting my curiosity get the better of me. Until this summer. Back roads photography has become my passion and I love the treasures I am finding off the beaten path. These small, almost abandoned “ghost” towns are full of history and ruins that make for interesting photos. We’ll start in Delaware, Oklahoma.
Delaware was founded in 1889 when the Kansas and Arkansas Railroad built a line through the area. A switch was constructed and soon a small community rose up around it. The post office was established in 1898 and oil was discovered nearby in 1904. With this discovery, the town exploded into what is known as a boomtown. The population was now over 4000. Unfortunately, this rise in population only lasted 3 years. In 1907, it fell to 108, probably due to the fact that the railroad was getting closer to Tulsa and/or the well dried up. Either way, the town never really fully recovered. The current population hovers around 420.
Remnants of years gone by are still present in Delaware, although most of the downtown buildings are closed up and no longer in use. One of these old gems still has life in it. It is the town grocery store/post office. The day I was there, the owner and a couple of her fellow townspeople were sitting outside enjoying a cigarette and trying to figure out what to do with a cart full of lettuce. I asked if I could take their picture and they obliged.
I turned around and noticed the street markers. I was pretty sure that they had been constructed in the early 1900’s and it amazed me that they were still in use today.
I ventured on down the street and found other buildings that once served a purpose, but were now closed up and empty. I still find it funny how these small towns can just let history go like they do. I understand that it takes money to maintain them, but there has to be someone somewhere that cares enough to make sure that the history is not forgotten. Maybe that’s why I am so passionate about this subject lately. I’m learning Oklahoma’s rich in lore and stories and would like to see this history kept somewhat in tact. I guess making photographs of these places and the buildings that have survived is my contribution to this cause.
The one thing that I have found that seems to remain constant is the churches in these small towns. Most of them still hold Sunday services and appear to be well-kept. It is the one place everyone can gather for fellowship and that occasional church pot-luck meal. It’s the glue that holds these communities together and keeps them from dying out completely.
It’s time for me to move on down the road. I’m eager to find the next hidden treasure and preserve its memories. I hope you will come along for the ride. Have safe and happy travels!