Greenwood's streetcar: The Sand Springs Railroad

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In this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly I wrote about the proposed look for the new downtown ballpark, and I mentioned the location's connection with two railroads and the Greenwood district:

From the 1910s until sometime in the 1990s, the site was bisected by the M. K. & T. railroad tracks. For the first 50 years of that period, the interurban from Sand Springs ran down the center of Archer until about a half-block east of Elgin, where the tracks curved northward, running roughly where the ballpark's outfield fence will be. The trolley tracks then ran down the middle of Greenwood Ave. from Brady St. to Haskell St., before veering off to the east to connect to the Santa Fe tracks to the north.

You can still see some old bits of the track behind the commercial buildings on the west side of Greenwood. The triangular shape of that block of buildings marks where the Sand Springs and Katy railroads crossed paths. If you look closely, you can see where the middle of Archer and the sidewalk on its north side were patched when the interurban tracks were removed.

In the Tulsa Library's online archive of the Beryl Ford Collection of historic Tulsa photos, I found a series of photos showing the Sand Springs line in Greenwood in what appears to be the late 1940s and early 1950s. Not all of the photos were taken at the same time, but I've put them in order starting near the corner of Greenwood Ave. and Brady St. and moving north to where the tracks leave Greenwood Ave. at Haskell Ave. and head north-northeast along a road called Greenwood Pl. toward a junction with the Midland Valley and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks north of Independence St. Each photo and caption is linked to a slightly larger version on the library's website. Someday I hope to see a full resolution version of each these pictures, which would make it possible to pin down details like years on license plates, street signs, and names and numbers on buildings.

The Sand Springs Railroad's waiting room at the Tulsa end of the line was on the northwest corner of Archer and Boston. I do not know whether or not passengers were carried all the way to Greenwood Ave.

Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, looking north toward Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., Busy Bee Lunch, and Vernon AME Church.

Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, looking north toward Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., Busy Bee Lunch (in the Center Hotel building), and Vernon AME Church. While the Vernon Church is still there, as is the building in the foreground, in between is now the route of I-244.


Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, near Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., looking southwest, Hotel Tulsa in far background

Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, near Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., looking southwest, Hotel Tulsa in far background. This is looking the opposite direction from the same vantage point as in the previous photo. The new ballpark will be off to the right of the tracks.


Nearly everything you will see below has been replaced by parking lots for OSU-Tulsa.

Greenwood Ave. looking south toward Vernon AME Church along Sand Springs Railroad tracks, 1953 car tag visible.

Greenwood Ave. looking south toward Vernon AME Church along Sand Springs Railroad tracks, 1953 car tag visible.


Greenwood Ave. south of Easton St., looking north along Sand Springs Railroad tracks. Prince-Mackey (Mable B. Little) House visible on the left (tile roof).

Greenwood Ave. south of Easton St., looking north along Sand Springs Railroad tracks. Prince-Mackey (Mable B. Little) House visible on the left (tile roof). This is taken just a bit south of the previous photo -- note the two-story building with the white pillars. The Prince-Mackey house stood on the southwest corner of Greenwood Ave. and Easton St. It is now located a little ways to the south and back from the street, as part of the Greenwood Cultural Center. The skinny three-story building straight ahead is the Del Rio Hotel.


Greenwood Ave. south of Easton St., looking south along Sand Springs Railroad tracks.

Greenwood Ave. south of Easton St., looking south along Sand Springs Railroad tracks.


Now a little interlude. These two photos follow city bus No. 1939 as it is eastbound on Easton St. approaching Greenwood Ave. (Correction: Westbound in the first picture, eastbound in the second picture.)

UPDATE 2013/07/02: Paul Uttinger notes that this same block is visible in the Solomon Sir Jones films from the 1920s, specifically a section of Reel 27 that shows the newly opened Jessie Brown Funeral Home at 540 E. Easton. At 2:26 there's a good view to the east along Easton toward Greenwood, with Phil's Food Market and the Prince-Mackey home in the background. At 3:00 as the ambulance pulls out and drives west, you can see Booker T. Washington High School in the background on the right.

Tulsa city bus on Easton St. west of Greenwood Ave., looking northwest

Tulsa city bus on Easton St. west of Greenwood Ave. looking northwest


Tulsa city bus on Easton St. west of Greenwood Ave. Looking southeast toward Phil's Food Market (L) and Prince-Mackey House (R)

Tulsa city bus on Easton St. west of Greenwood Ave. Looking southeast toward Phil's Food Market (L) and Prince-Mackey House (R)


Greenwood Ave., north of Easton St., looking north along Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks toward intersection with Greenwood Pl. and the Del Rio Hotel.

Greenwood Ave., north of Easton St., looking north along Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks toward intersection with Greenwood Pl. and the Del Rio Hotel.


Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right. The Del Rio Hotel is the 'flatiron' building straight ahead. The siding to the left goes to the brick plant. Walker's Beauty College is on the left.

Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right. The Del Rio Hotel is the 'flatiron' building straight ahead. The siding to the left goes to the brick plant. Walker's Beauty College is on the left.


Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right.

Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right.


Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right.

Greenwood Ave. at intersection with Greenwood Pl., which parallels the Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks branching to the right.


Greenwood Pl. just east of intersection of Greenwood Ave., and the Sand Springs Railroad interurban car 62, with the Del Rio Hotel behind it.

Greenwood Pl. just east of intersection of Greenwood Ave., and the Sand Springs Railroad interurban car 62, with the Del Rio Hotel behind it. According to the book, When Oklahoma Took the Trolley, car 62 was built in 1917, acquired by the SSRR in 1932 from Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg, and Aurora, and scrapped in 1947 when newer cars were acquired from the recently defunct Oklahoma Union Railway, an interurban line connecting Nowata, Coffeyville, and Independence. Note the man in the hat looking at the track. He shows up in some of the following photos, intensely interested in the track or possibly just camera shy. There are some other photos in the collection showing him looking at rural portions of the line, between Tulsa and Sand Springs.


Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. (straight and to the right) and Haskell Pl. (to the left) looking north.

Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. (straight and to the right) and Haskell Pl. (to the left) looking north.


Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking northeast toward junction with AT&SF tracks.

Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking northeast toward junction with AT&SF tracks.


Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking northeast toward junction with AT&SF tracks.

Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking northeast toward junction with AT&SF tracks.


Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking east toward homes and AT&SF tracks beyond.

Sand Springs Railroad tracks at Greenwood Pl. looking east toward homes and AT&SF tracks beyond.

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6 Comments

Yogi Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for taking the time to sort out all the photos. I love stuff like that. I have gone through the Beryl Ford collection a lot and have found it very difficult to navigate.

I guess what strikes me most about the photographs is the poverty. They are like pictures of a 3rd world country.

Jack said:

Great finds (and I agree, it is hard to navigate the collection) -- images of a real city, warts and all.

I know there was, and still is, a lot of poverty to overcome, but I can't help but think that if the basic urban infrastructure had remained (the interurban line, the 'flatiron' and other small-scale commercial buildings, the basic neighborhood street patterns, etc.), this would be one of the most attractive urban areas in Tulsa today. We'd be fighting off young hipsters and retiring gentrifiers with a stick.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Yogi,
On the poverty - We have a different bar for poverty these days. Put in perspective 50 years before, and it would have been dirt, mud, horses, trash everywhere, raw sewage in the streets, no electricity, etc.
It's just progress. Poor people today get electricity, and if they can't afford it, someone pays for it, if they go and apply. It was just as cold 75 years ago. People can make due.

It struck me that the city "worked." It was functional for a variety of transportation modes, automobile, foot, bus, rail, every mode being utilized. Conversley today, It's difficult to have such transportation diversity when there is no density. Every mode except car gets drasitcally under-utilized to the detriment of the city as a whole.

As Jack points out, Greenwood Ave. as seen in these photos is the sort of district that has seen gentrification in Tulsa. And these photos don't show (except from a distance) Deep Greenwood, the commercial heart of the district, which would reinforce that impression.

The houses along Greenwood Pl. next to the rail yards aren't too different from what you might have seen in West Tulsa, next to the refineries. I notice that even though the houses are simple, they seem to be well-kept and tidy.

There are indications in the photos that the city wasn't taking care of infrastructure in the Greenwood district -- broken sidewalks, badly paved streets, and even some dirt roads.

mad okie Author Profile Page said:

"There are indications in the photos that the city wasn't taking care of infrastructure..."

the more things change, the more they stay the same

G Webster Wormleigh said:

I think the appearance of poverty may be a little misleading. Some of this area looks about like the white neighborhood in which I grew up in Okie City. And, proximity to the "tracks" always makes things a little rough.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 18, 2008 12:19 PM.

David Bates, Tulsa Santa, featured in Urban Tulsa Weekly was the previous entry in this blog.

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