August 7, 2018
Pawnee Bill Mansion to Close for Stabilization Work
PAWNEE, Okla. — Beginning August 13, 2018, the Pawnee Bill Mansion will close to the public to begin work to stabilize the foundation, said Kathy Dickson, director of museums and historic sites at the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). “When the 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Pawnee on September 3, 2016, plans were already underway to stabilize the mansion’s foundation,” said Dickson.
“Prior to the earthquake, the engineering firm of Kirkpatrick Forest Curtis had been investigating foundation issues at the mansion for about two years to determine the cause and develop plans for the best corrective action,” said Rillis Howard, director of construction and maintenance at the OHS. “The plans were nearing completion and being prepared for bid when the earthquake hit. As a result the project had to be pulled back for re-evaluation due to the extensive earthquake damage.”
The OHS received funding for the initial envelope and foundation restoration project through the state’s Long Range Capital Planning Commission. The commission recognized the critical need to complete this work to save the mansion for future generations of Oklahomans. With the additional earthquake damage the state’s insurance agency, Risk Management, was brought into the project to assist with evaluating the earthquake damage and to coordinate insurance coverage.
“This is quite a complicated project with no room for error, so it has taken a long time to get it underway,” said Howard. “Bids have now closed on the project and final contract terms are being developed. We are not yet certain the exact date the contractor will mobilize onsite, but there is a lot of work to do before the contractor starts work,” continued Howard.
“Staff at the Pawnee Bill Ranch, with help from OHS staff at other facilities, will be packing and securing items in the mansion to protect them from damage during the construction work,” said Ron Brown, director of Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum. “If you have toured the mansion you have an idea of what a big job this is. We are sad to have to close the mansion, but we are very excited to move forward with the stabilization work. We have been observing the movement and deterioration at the mansion for some time and will be relieved when the work is finished so we can feel confident the mansion will be here for our great-great grandchildren,” continued Brown.
The reopening date for the mansion has not yet been set. OHS staff anticipates reopening by mid-April. “Once the construction crew has finished, we will have a lot of cleaning and unpacking to do to get ready for visitors once again,” said Brown.
“The mansion is not the only building to receive attention after the earthquake,” said Howard. “The big barn, blacksmith shop, museum and picnic pavilion also sustained damage that will be repaired. These buildings also will be closed as work moves there, but the needed work on each of these, while considerable, is not as extensive as the mansion.”
“We ask for the public’s patience as we work,” said Brown. “Admission fees for the historic site will be suspended while the mansion is closed. We do hope visitors will consider a donation to help with the operations and many projects at the site. There is still much to see and do at the Pawnee Bill Ranch, and we hope to continue to see many visitors.”
The Pawnee Bill Ranch was once the showplace of the world-renowned Wild West Show entertainer Gordon W. “Pawnee Bill” Lillie and his wife, May. Their fourteen-room mansion, completed in 1910, is fully furnished with their original belongings. The ranch property also houses a museum with exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, Wild West Shows and the Pawnee tribe. The 500-acre grounds include the original ranch blacksmith shop, a 1903 log cabin, a large barn built in 1926 and an Indian Flower Shrine—all available to the public. A herd of bison, longhorn and several draft horses call the Pawnee Bill Ranch home and can often be found grazing in the drive-through exhibit pasture.
Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.