The original McCurtain County community called Garvin began as a trading post about one and one-half miles southeast of the present town. A post office was established at that location February 19, 1894, with James W. Kirk, owner of the trading post, as postmaster. He named the office for his deceased father-in-law, Isaac L. Garvin, who had served as Choctaw chief from 1878 to 1880. In 1902 the Choctaw Townsite Commission selected a site for a new town to be named Garvin on the railroad being constructed across the southern section of what would later become McCurtain County. The townsite was about equidistant between the newly platted towns of Valliant and Purnell (later Idabel) and about one and a one-half miles south of Little River. The original site consisted of 126 acres, including five acres for a cemetery.
James Kirk acquired property in the town and opened a store into which he moved the post office from his old trading post. Others soon bought lots and began building homes and business houses. Federal Commissioner G. A. Spaulding moved his office to the new town from Goodwater, which the railroad had bypassed. Garvin raced ahead of the other newly platted towns in development and population. The Garvin Graphic, began publication in 1903, the first newspaper in the area that became McCurtain County. A school was built and began classes in September 1904 with fifty students. A cotton gin was operating in 1904, and a telephone system was in place the next year. By 1906 the population was about eight hundred, fifteen stores were in business, and a number of lawyers and physicians had opened practices.
Progress continued even after 1907 Oklahoma statehood, and Garvin was rejected as county seat in favor of Idabel. Dense forests in Garvin's trade territory supplied raw materials for several wood-processing plants, providing the major economic base. Agriculture, especially cotton culture, was also a factor. By virtue of its population and stage of development, the town might have rightfully claimed the title of county seat. Sources reported the 1907 population as much greater than that of Idabel. According to official records, the population peaked at 957 in 1910, but was only 292 by 1920, and it gradually dwindled to 128 in 1990. Garvin's initial growth and prosperity was primarily attributable to development of the wood-processing industry. A large sawmill, a veneering plant, a barrel hoop mill, and a barrel stave plant were soon in operation, and several miles of rail tramway were built south toward the Red River to transport logs to the mills.
Several additions were platted to enlarge the town's area in the first few years. In 1909 a brick school building replaced a wooden structure. Three churches were organized and flourished. The Presbyterians built an impressive church of native limestone with leaded, stained-glass windows at a cost of twelve thousand dollars in 1910. The building was later used by the Baptists before being abandoned; Garvin Rock Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 80003275). Waterhole Cemetery, three and one-fourth miles south of town, is also listed (NR 79002001).
In part, the shrinking of the once prosperous town was caused by depletion of the timber in the trade area and the resulting closure of the wood-processing plants, which were the major employers of the inhabitants. The Great Depression struck the fatal blow, and many residents moved to the county seat of Idabel. By 1940 the population had been reduced to 110. In 2000 the residents numbered only 143, most of whom were employed elsewhere. The U.S. Census in 2010 registered a population increase to 256.
William Arthur Carter, McCurtain County and Southeast Oklahoma (Fort Worth, Tex.: Tribune Publishing Co., 1923).
McCurtain County: A Pictorial History, Vol. 2 (N.p.: McCurtain County Historical Society, 1982).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Louis Coleman, “Garvin,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=GA016.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.