You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did

There’s a new mural along Route 66 in Tulsa.

Many travelers and locals know of the Meadow Gold sign near 11th and Peoria. Right next to the brick pavilion that serves as a home to that iconic neon structure, on the east side of the building that houses the Corner Cafe, a colorful artistic work recreates part of the sculpture at Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza and exclaims, “You said we couldn’t do it, but we did.”

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Photo courtesy of artist Josh Butts

What does that mean? Well, that’s a great question…and an important one in the overall story of Tulsa’s success.

In 1901, oil was first discovered in what would become Tulsa County. When oil was struck at the Sue Bland #1 Well in the town of Red Fork, it rocketed 30 feet over the derrick in spectacular fashion. By the next week, thousands of men had poured into Indian Territory to seek their fortune. At that time only a railroad bridge connected Red Fork and Tulsa across the Arkansas River. The only way for most citizens to cross was by fording the river or using the ferry.

Tulsa city leaders recognized the need for a sturdy, reliable crossing across the Arkansas and tried to pass a bond issue to pay for a wagon bridge. The citizens of Tulsa, however, weren’t convinced. The Red Fork oil strike hadn’t resulted in a large discovery and many locals felt that the excitement was over.

Enter three local men: logger Melville Baird, merchant Joseph Don Hagler, and banker George T Williamson. They believed that oil was the future of Tulsa and pooled their own money to build a bridge across the Arkansas River.  On January 4, 1904, the new wagon bridge opened to the public.  On the top of the truss a small placard read, “You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did.” It became a testament to Tulsa’s resiliency and spirit.

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In November of 1905, the Glenn Pool Oil Field was discovered.  This monumental oil reserve is considered by many the true start to Oklahoma’s oil boom and is what lead to Tulsa being billed as the Oil Capital of the World. If that wagon bridge had not been in place, it stands to reason that Sapulpa would instead be the second-largest city in Oklahoma and Tulsa would be the suburb.

Cyrus Avery Bridge-3

In 1917, the wagon crossing was replaced with a state-of-the-art multi-span concrete arch bridge. It was a beautiful, modern construct with multiple lanes for traffic and rails in the middle to support the Inter-Urban Trolley. The new bridge was spearheaded by Tulsa County Commissioner Cyrus Avery, who was also heavily involved in the Good Roads Movement to improve lanes of travel throughout the country.

Avery’s passion for roads lead to his appointment to the group tasked with designating and numbering the new federal highway system. This included Route 66, which Cyrus successfully lobbied to have routed through his home town of Tulsa. He used the 11th Street Bridge as a focal point for this decision, citing it as the best crossing across the Arkansas River in the country.  The rest of the committee agreed and in 1926, the Mother Road was born.

Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge

The Eleventh Street Bridge was abandoned in favor of a modern bridge, built alongside the historic crossing, in 1982. It still stands today as the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge.  The severe deterioration of the deck prevents even pedestrian traffic. Due to a price tag of nearly $20 million, restoration efforts have not yet borne fruit. But, with history as our guide, perhaps there will be an opportunity once again to tell the doubters:

You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did.

Arkansas River

(historic photos courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum)

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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