by Lauren Riepl, Associate Archivist
The papers of John J. Harden Collection, #2011.216, in the manuscript archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center have recently been processed. The papers include correspondence, newspaper clippings, legal documents, and ephemera dealing with the real estate developments of Harden and his business associates in Oklahoma City as well as surrounding states. Although Harden was not born in Oklahoma, he arrived just after statehood was established and lived here until his death in 1963.
In 1907 Harden began developing subdivisions for residential homes. Some of his notable neighborhoods include the Crestwood Addition and Edgemere Park in Oklahoma City, as well as the Pleasant View Addition in Mangum. Box 3 of the Harden Collection, part of the Real Estate Development subseries, contains a variety of documents pertaining to the development of Oklahoma City between 1921 and 1936, documents such as blue prints, advertisements, newspaper clippings, abstracts, property assessments, pamphlets, contracts, quit claim deeds, leases, building specifications, financial documents and correspondence. Some notable correspondents include Herbert C. Heller, a prominent financier, and George Veeder, Harden’s right hand man. Harden did not limit himself to just real estate development, he also managed the development of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club and the Oklahoma City Farmer’s Market.
The Oklahoma City Public Farmer’s Market opened its doors in 1928. Box 6, Oklahoma City Public Market correspondence, includes letters from various Oklahoma City businesses and organizations to the Mayor and city council that outline their support for the construction of a public market. Also included are documents relating to the purchase of land, the establishment of the market, advertisements, purchase agreements, the enforcement of city ordinances and bond issues passed by Oklahoma City and general market management. Notable correspondents in this series include Stanley Draper.
John Harden was also involved in the construction and maintenance of cemeteries with mausoleums. He was responsible for the construction of two Rose Hill Cemeteries, one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa. Many notable Oklahomans such as Governors William Holloway, Roy Turner and John Walton are buried there. Other families that purchased lots at Rose Hill include Bob Murcer, Phil Daugherty, Senator Wesley Disney, Oral Roberts, Bob Wills and the entire Harden family. Blueprints, correspondence, financial records, contracts and materials regarding the sale of both cemeteries are available for research.
Harden commanded a diversified enterprise. Under his direction the Western Paving Company paved most of the roads in Oklahoma City and many roads in our state parks under Federal Works Progress Administration projects in the 1930s. The subseries, Natural Resources: water, petroleum, paving ventures, 1919-1947, contains correspondence relating to the implementation of the Oklahoma Irrigation Project and purchasing of city improvement bonds as well as general management of related projects, such as Oklahoma City Flood Control Project and the use of “Trammell Pipes” to achieve these means. Notable correspondents in this series include Horace A. Sears, Hugh M. Johnson and J.D. Trammell.
John Harden was also involved in politics. As early as 1924 Harden was forging relationships with men running for state and federal offices. In the 1930s public facilities became a focus of the U.S. government’s effort to recover from the Great Depression. States were receiving money for parks, buildings, utilities, airports, and transportation projects. Harden saw this opportunity to bring money to the state and his many enterprising companies. Boxes 17-19 include correspondence and federal publications regarding the Reconstruction Finance Committee or RFC. The RFC was a federal agency which established relief programs that financed much of the work being done via the WPA.
Following Harden’s death in 1963, there was a lengthy dispute among his family regarding the distribution of his estate. Phil Daugherty oversaw all of these court proceedings and settlements, some of which you can read about in Daugherty’s papers, also in the archives at the Oklahoma Historical Society, #2012.038. Court decisions, transcripts, appeals, correspondence, meetings, affidavits, and sworn statements are all contained within this series.
Harden did not limit himself to just Oklahoma business ventures. He built public markets in Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas, as well as Chicago, Illinois. He built a hotel in Hobbs, New Mexico, in 1930 with hopes that Hobbs was the future of the oil business. He developed neighborhoods in north Texas, Illinois and Kansas. In Acapulco, Mexico, Harden took on an adventurous endeavor to build the Hotel Palacifico, a luxury hotel in the Gulf of Mexico. He dabbled in gold mining in California, Montana and Colorado. Evidence of all these extraordinary endeavors can be found throughout the John J. Harden Collection. The papers remain here, as dynamic as the man himself, diverse in nature and rich with research possibilities.