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Oklahoma Journeys

Anton Classen's Birthday

2009-10-24

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He was a lawyer, edited a newspaper, donated land for the first normal school in Oklahoma Territory in Edmond, and became one of the busiest home builders in building Oklahoma City when that city was growing by leaps and bounds. We say happy birthday to Anton Classen on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

In Oklahoma City there is Classen Drive, Classen Boulevard, Classen High School and Northwest Classen High School. But over time, we seem to have forgotten just who Classen was.

He was Anton Classen, and he was born on October 8, 1861, in Illinois. Named for his German-born father, Classen received a common school education in Illinois then studied law at the University of Michigan. Two years after graduating from law school, he made the 1889 land run into the Unassigned Lands, living for a brief period of time in Guthrie. That town had too many lawyers, so he moved to nearby Edmond. While practicing law, Classen edited of the Edmond Sun newspaper and donated the land for Oklahoma Territory's first normal school to be located at Edmond.

In 1897 Classen was appointed by President William McKinley as receiver in the U.S. Land Office in Oklahoma City. Classen quickly involved himself in the development and beautification of the Oklahoma City. Speculating in land, he bought farm land next to the city limits and organized numerous housing additions, the first being Highland Park Addition (now Heritage Hills) established in 1900. To enhance the lots he planted trees and set aside land for parks. In 1902 he and John Shartel organized the Metropolitan Railway Company (later the Oklahoma City Railway Company), the city's first street car system that benefitted their real estate interests because the lines connected their additions to downtown Oklahoma City.

In 1899 Classen served as president of the Oklahoma City Commercial Club (later the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce), was instrumental in getting city streets paved, and in promoting Oklahoma City as the location for Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders annual reunion in 1900. A Methodist, he helped organize the University Development Company, through which the building of Epworth University (now Oklahoma City University) was financed. He also served on the university's board of trustees. His many real estate interests were transferred to the Classen Company in 1902, the same year that he opened the University and Marquette additions. In association with the Oklahoma Industrial Company, Classen promoted the establishment of a meat-packing firm in the stockyards and enticed a Chicago meat packing company to locate in Oklahoma City. That was the beginning of what became known as "Packingtown."

At the turn of the twenty-first century Classen Boulevard and Classen School of Advanced Studies (the former Classen High School) in Oklahoma City remained as tributes to one of the city's first prominent developers. During the years his company was building homes and running the streetcar system, Oklahoma City's population grew by over a two hundred percent. Oklahoma City just wouldn't be what it is today had it not been for Anton Classen, born on October 8, 1861.

You can learn more about the early history of Oklahoma City by visiting the Research Library at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.

Oklahoma Memories

Anton Classen's Birthday

2009-10-24

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"Classen had laid out the better part of Oklahoma City, went from 13th Street to 16th Street." That's the voice of E. K Gaylord, the long time owner of the Daily Oklahoman, describing what he saw the first day he was in Oklahoma City in late December 1902. He was talking about Anton Classen who was one of the early developers responsible for the incredible growth of Oklahoma City in the early part of the 20th century.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

In Oklahoma City there is Classen Drive, Classen Boulevard, Classen High School and Northwest Classen High. But over time we seem to have forgotten just who Classen was.

He was Anton Classen. He was born on October 8, 1861, in Illinois. Classen received a common school education in Illinois then studied law at the University of Michigan. Two years after he graduated from college, he made the 1889 land run into the Unassigned Lands of the Oklahoma Territory. He lived for a brief time in Guthrie but that town had too many lawyers, so he moved to nearby Edmond. While practicing law, Classen was editor of the Edmond Sun newspaper and donated the land for Oklahoma Territory's first normal school in Edmond.

In 1897 Classen was appointed by President William McKinley as receiver in the U.S. Land Office in Oklahoma City. Classen quickly involved himself in the development and beautification of the city. Speculating in land, he bought farm land next to the city limits and organized numerous housing additions, the first being the Highland Park Addition, now Heritage Hills, established in 1900.

"Classen had laid out the better part of Oklahoma City, went from 13th Street to 16th Street, but there were no houses there. Mr. Overholser was building a house, corner of 15th and Hudson, but there were no houses there so all the streets laid out, dirt streets of course, and all the blocks were platted to wheat so he was harvesting wheat there from what is now the old downtown part of Oklahoma City."

But it was young forward-looking men such as Classen that made Oklahoma City an attractive place to move to as Gaylord remembered:

"It was an interview with Carter Harrison, Mayor of Chicago, who had been down in Texas, and he came through Oklahoma, and he said that Oklahoma was going to be a future state, it was just a territory, that it could raise the crops of the south and raise the crops of the north, and he saw the fields were white with cotton as he went through. Said if he was a young man he'd locate in Oklahoma."

Gaylord arrived just after Christmas in 1902 and spent his first day looking over the city the Mayor of Chicago had described.

By 1907 Classen had developed the Highland Addition, the West Highland Addition, University Addition near Epworth College (now Oklahoma City University), Bell Vern, and the North Broadway Addition. The city was booming as Gaylord remembered.

"Teddy Roosevelt at the time, just before the Enabling Act, he had a special census taken, as most of you know, in 1907. We had 38,205 population in Oklahoma City. The regular census came along in April 1910 and we had 64,000 and one or two hundred. Almost exactly 100% growth in two years and eight months."

In 1919 he donated land for the school named in his honor. He had been an active member and director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. On December 30, 1922, Classen died at his home. Oklahoma City just wouldn't be what it is today had it not been for Anton Classen, born on October 8, 1861. You can learn more about the early history of Oklahoma City by visiting the Research Library at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.