Okmulgee, the county seat of Okmulgee County, is located fourteen miles north of Interstate 40 on U.S. Highway 62/75. The town was founded after the Civil War in 1868 when the Creek Nation began restoring order to their devastated homeland and came together in a general council to establish a capitol building. A post office opened there on April 29, 1869, under the spelling Okmulkee until November 15, 1883, when it became Okmulgee. The name is a Creek word, oki mulgi, meaning "boiling waters," and is taken from a town in their native region, in present Russell County, Alabama. Pres. Ulysses S. Grant appointed Capt. Frederick B. Severs to serve as Okmulgee's first postmaster.
The two-story, log council house of the Creek Nation was constructed near the edge of a stand of timber and quickly became the center of town. In 1878 fire destroyed the council house, and a stone structure was built in its place. The Creek Council House received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 (NR 66000632). After restoration was completed in 1993, the capitol served as a museum with displays and exhibits reflecting the history of the Okmulgee area and the Creek Nation. Okmulgee remains the home of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tribal Complex.
Following the completion of the St. Louis, Oklahoma and Southern Railway (later the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) in 1900, Okmulgee entered into a new and progressive era of expansion. An influx of investors and homeseekers prompted the platting of housing additions, and extensive water, natural gas, telephone, and electrical systems were installed. At 1907 statehood the town had 2,322 residents and was designated as the governmental seat of Okmulgee County. Construction on the present county courthouse began in 1916.
The local economy was based on the production of coal in nearby mines as well as on agriculture. Cash crops included cotton, corn, feed grains, and forage, and truck farming, dairying, and poultry raising were important as well. Railroads furnished market access for these products, and cotton gins and grain elevators provided services. By 1910 the population had reached 4,176 and supported five banks. The town became a manufacturing center in the 1910s, and by 1918 facilities included three foundry and machine shops, three glass factories, and a bottle factory. Citizens could choose among daily and weekly newspapers including today's Okmulgee Daily Times, which was first printed in 1911 and continued to be published at the end of the twentieth century. Other long-lived publications were the Okmulgee Daily Democrat from 1913 through 1932 and the Okmulgee County News from 1949 through 1984.
Following the discovery of the nearby Morris and Lucky oil pools in 1907, the town expanded into a twenty-block square around the council house. Five local refineries were operational by the early 1920s. Streetcars provided transportation to and from businesses and government offices, ballrooms, oil company offices, and homes of the finest architecture. During the 1930s Great Depression oil production decreased, and Okmulgee fell into the "boom to bust" category like numerous other Oklahoma towns.
In 1986 Okmulgee citizens successfully applied to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to participate in the Oklahoma Main Street Program. With this historic preservation project, numerous buildings around the town's square were rehabilitated to their original appearance, rejuvenating business on Main Street. In 2002 the city was chosen as one of the top five Great American Main Streets. In 1992 the Okmulgee Downtown Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NR 92001693).
The oil boom brought the city's population to approximately 35,000 during the 1920s. Subsequently, the Great Depression and World War II caused that figure to drop from 17,097 in 1930 to 16,051 in 1940. After increasing to 18,317 in 1950, the population fell to 15,180 in 1970 but grew to 16,263 in 1980. There were 13,441 residents in 1990, 13,022 in 2000, and 12,321 in 2010.
In 2000 Okmulgee was administered by a council-manager form of government, and 379 businesses operated. Construction, retail trade, health care and social assistance, and hotel and food services were among the town's leading industries. Local properties included in the National Register are the Okmulgee National Guard Armory (NR 98001589), the Okmulgee County Courthouse (NR 84003390), and the Okmulgee Stock Pavilion (NR 98001590). Okmulgee remains the home of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tribal Complex. West of town, Lake Okmulgee and Okmulgee State Park provide water to the city and recreation for area residents, respectively. Okmulgee natives include actor William Sampson (1933–87). A branch of Oklahoma State University and the Green Country Technology Center serve local students.
Walter G. McComas, "Okmulgee and Its Resources," Sturm's Oklahoma Magazine 6 (July 1908).
Ohland Morton, "Reconstruction in the Creek Nation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (June 1931).
Okmulgee Historical Society and the Heritage Society of America, comps. and eds., History of Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, Vol. 1 (Tulsa, Okla.: Historical Enterprises, 1985).
"Okmulgee," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Maxine Bamburg, “Okmulgee,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=OK092.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.