As you travel along the Oklahoma Adventure Trail in northern Oklahoma, be sure and take a one mile detour north to visit the United Methodist Church in the ghost town of Jefferson, Oklahoma. Built in 1895, the church is still in use today and worth the visit.
The town itself has an interesting history. According to “Ghost Towns of Oklahoma” by John W. Morris, it was established in 1866 by James R. Mead as a trading station at what was then called Round Pond Creek on the Chisholm Trail in the Cherokee Outlet. Jefferson is located on the low divide between Osage and Pond Creeks and is about a mile from the confluence of the two streams. Therein lies one of the principal causes of the demise of Jefferson – the area is subject to heavy flooding.
Mead recalled “Mr. Chisholm’s teams and my own were the first which ever passed over the route and marked out what afterward became known as the Chisholm Trail.” There, at Round Pond, the cattle route crossed an old Indian warpath, Black Dog Trail, named for an Osage chief. In November, 1879, a post office named Pond was located at this place. The station and post office were closed in 1887. The Cherokee Outlet was opened for settlement in 1893. In 1894 the town of Jefferson came into existence.
Jefferson, surrounded by some of the best agricultural land in Oklahoma, soon became a growing farm center. Within ten years some twenty stores and shops plus two banks and two hotels had located in the town. In addition, there were two produce houses, an agricultural implement dealer, a wheelwright, three black-smith shops, three elevators, and a feed mill. Better-than-average medical care was available, for three medical doctors and three osteopaths had established offices. A weekly newspaper advertised the virtues of Jefferson throughout the area. The town also had its saloon keepers and liquor dealers who had moved in fast “to quench the thirst of the newly located settlers, townsmen, and others.”
Two churches were soon started. The First Methodist Church, which still stands, was built in 1895 of rock quarried along the Oklahoma-Kansas border and brought to Jefferson in wagons pulled by teams. A school system was also organized. In the early 1900’s a two-story frame opera house was constructed. Performances by touring theatrical companies and musical organizations were given on the first floor, and dances were held in the upper story. The building also served as town hall for local meetings.
Jefferson reached its peak about 1915, when it had an estimated population of about six hundred persons. After that there was a gradual decline until 1944. At that time the first big flood in fifty years hit the town. Most homes and businesses were inundated. On October 10-11, 1973, Jefferson had its biggest flood. It was reported that fifteen inches of rain fell in five hours. “After that mess several families moved out.” Again, in 1974 there was another great flood and more families moved. During these last two floods water covered the lower floors of homes, store buildings, and churches.
Currently about eighteen families live in Jefferson. Two churches remain open, but all stores and the school are closed. An elevator continues to serve the farmers of the area. There is evidence of repair to homes in some places, but more evidence of flood damage and decay. Boggy places in and about the town can be seen, and in many places driftwood left by the receding waters remains.
Below is a map showing the location of the church in town. You can download a GPX file by clicking the link below:
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