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Second Chances: Resurrected Sulphur, Oklahoma

Post card
Artesian Hotel, built originally for the World's Fair in St. Louis and moved to the city of Sulphur in 1906, was rebuilt in 2013. The structure anchors the eastern downtown of Sulphur, its tourist section (OHS).

On the night of April 27 2024, Sulphur, the seat of Murray County, Oklahoma, was hit by at least two tornadoes, one of which destroyed most of its east-side downtown. The old business district was a quaint assortment of bars, boutiques, and bakeries/cafes that catered mainly to the tourists who come to visit the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, take in the spa waters (hence the name, Sulphur), or gamble at the Chickasaw-owned casinos.

The twister wiped out much of this, and rebuilding will take many, many years. But this isn't Sulphur's first rodeo: the town has had to "Phoenix" itself several times.

At the turn of the 20th century, the entire town was forced to move to northward when its bubbling sulfur waters, waterfalls, and picturesque creeks were turned into Platt National Park. In doing so, the residents battled each other as to where, exactly, the town should be relocated: some settled east of Rock Creek, and some settled west thereof. Then, in March of 1922, the western side of town was visited by a tornado that leveled the courthouse and left 22 people dead. Forty years later, the Artesian Hotel, built originally in 1905 for use at the World's Fair in St. Louis, burned to the ground. This prominent building anchored downtown on its east side.

These past calamities should be used as inspiration to Sulphurians, because the town has been able to rebuild itself again and again.

In 1909, the city became whole once again when the East and West sides built the Washington Bridge, a streel truss bridge, over Rock Creek and placed a hatchet and horseshoe in the bridge to show their commitment to peace and prosperity. The tornado-ravaged courthouse was replaced a year after the tornado hit and still stands in the western downtown. And in 2013 the Artesian Hotel was rebuilt on the same location and using the same (albeit enhanced) architectural features. This building, thankfully, was mostly spared from the 2024 tornado.

Ultimately, what has been destroyed in Sulphur, Oklahoma has been resurrected. A silver lining can appear after a horrible, horrible disaster.

Artesian Hotel in the 1920s, with a traffic obelisque in the middle of the street and a Texaco gas station across (OHS).
Artesian Hotel, built in 1905, after the fire of 1962 (OHS).
Brick building
The current Murray County Courthouse replaced an older structure that was struck down by a twister in 1922 (OHS).
The 1922 tornado destroyed the town's jail, so a new one was built... and it has since been replaced by a newer prison and sheriff's office (Ardmore Public Library).

Rickety buildings
The original town of Sulphur stood west of Rock Creek until Platt National Park opened at the site. Photographer Frank Churchill deemed this area "Pudden Row" in this photograph from the turn of the 20th century (OHS).

Sulphur's Harper Hotel, as photographed by Frank Churchill in 1900, and the businesses near the sulfur springs that made this town a tourist destination, are long gone (OHS).
Street scene
An early twentieth century look from the Baptist Church's Educational Building, looking west on the city's 2nd downtown, which catered to tourists (OHS).

The Vienna Bakery in Sulphur, Oklahoma no longer stands (OHS).
Destroyed buildings
The Sulphur Baker on Muskogee Avenue took a direct hit in the April 2024 tornado (Associated Press).
Destroyed buildings
Destruction along Muskogee Avenue in the eastern downtown, with the Artesian Hotel in the background, from the April 2024 EF3 tornado (Reuters).

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