February 1, 2007

Ninnekah’s history precedes statehood

Nicole Annelar

NINNEKAH — As Oklahoma enters its 100th year, it is easy to forget that many towns in the state, and indeed, in Grady County itself, have existed for far longer. One of these towns is a small community a few miles south of Chickasha, by the name of Ninnekah. This tiny town, overshadowed by its larger and better-known neighbors, has a rich history dating back to 1892, when Oklahoma was still known as Indian Territory.

The Town of Ninnekah was founded when a man by the name of George R. Beeler set aside 160 acres of farmland on the east side of the Little Washita River, next to the Rock Island Railroad. Shortly afterward, he opened a store and stocked it with items from a mercantile that had gone bankrupt in Ardmore. It became a trading post for most settlers traversing the Little Washita River valley, attracting customers from as far away as Cyril.

A corner of this store was set aside for a post office, and Mrs. George Beeler was the first postmaster of Ninnekah. Mrs. Beeler was given the responsibility of choosing the name for the new town. She chose the name “Ninnekah” because it had a “good Indian sound”, but did not learn the meaning of the name she had chosen until much later. The name “Ninnekah” means “dark water”, an apt description of a town located along the Little Washita.

It didn’t take long for a small farming community to form, and the town’s population grew quickly. At one time corn was the major crop grown in Ninnekah. It became well known for its corn crops; one harvest alone brought in over 100,000 bushels of corn. Because of its fertile soil and proximity to the railroad, Ninnekah rapidly grew to a large town, containing two drug stores, three doctors’ offices, a grain elevator, a cotton gin, a lumberyard, two banks, two blacksmith shops, a restaurant, three general merchandise stores, an ice cream parlor, electric light plant, two hotels and a railroad depot.

Ninnekah would likely have continued to grow, and possibly become as large as modern-day Chickasha, if it were not for the railroad. Ironically enough, the railroad is what caused Ninnekah to begin to grow, as well as what caused it to fade.

The Rock Island Railroad was blamed for a series of three fires that burned many of the business locations in Ninnekah. Because of the town’s proximity to the railroad tracks, sparks caused by the train were often a fire danger. One of the banks in Ninnekah was victim to a fire in 1914; this bank also housed the local newspaper. After the fire, the newspaper closed out rather than attempt to start again. The editor followed the path of many other residents and moved to Chickasha. The third fire was in 1935 and was the result of an explosion caused by fuel tankers on the train. Many residences and business locations were lost and Ninnekah began its descent.

Today Ninnekah is a very quaint, very quiet little town sitting in the same spot it always has, just with a few minor changes to the streets. In yester-year, Main Street was the principal road, with the old bridge entering town and several businesses along it. Today you cross the new bridge and enter Ninnekah on Dell Street. There are few clues left to the Ninnekah described in historical memoirs - only bits and pieces found amongst the weeds. If you know where to look, you can find a foundation for the railroad depot and the base for corrals that housed the livestock the train carried, left as hints for those that search.

Ninnekah is just one of the towns located within Grady County that has a past that is not quite what one would expect. The town’s history is long and known only to a few of its modern residents. Much of its past, however, is still available to the public, if one only knows where to look.