Because of its unique place in history, this petroleum-rich town outside Tulsa offers mansions, museums, Wild West lore and more to visitors.
Where can families see roaming herds of exotic animals on an oil baron’s vast ranch, explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper, experience the art, culture and history of the American west, and shop for unique treasures? Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a charming treat to discover, brims with this tapestry of extraordinary richness.
In 1897, the frontier trading community of Bartlesville in Indian Territory became the site of the first commercial oil well in Oklahoma, when the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 blew in as a gusher. In the decades that followed, vast amounts of oil were discovered beneath the richness of the land and the area was propelled into economic prosperity almost overnight. Entrepreneurs like Frank Phillips — who became an oil baron (Phillips 66 Petroleum) — streamed into the area. He was among many who were indicators of the wealth of the time.
Today with a population of around 35,000, Bartlesville is deeply rooted in the spirit of the pioneers. They set the groundwork for a town of many attractions and assets that continues the tradition of exploration and innovation.
Everyone Can Explore The Sights
A good starting point is the Bartlesville Area History Museum (918/338-4290), where children of all ages can learn about the town’s unique blend of American Indian and Western heritage and visit a reconstructed one-room schoolhouse. The museum traces the roots of the community back to the Delaware, Cherokee and Osage people, with interactive displays, exceptional photographs and intriguing artifacts.
The Frank Phillips Home (918/336-2491), the in-town, 26-room family residence built in 1909, lets you absorb the era’s opulent furnishings, photographs, and the family art collection. The second floor bedroom that was shared by the Phillips daughters would still be every little girl’s dream. The Phillips 66 Museum behind the mansion depicts the stages of Phillips career and the history of Phillips Petroleum
Woolaroc Ranch, Museum and Wildlife Preserve (918/336-0307) named for its WOOds, LAkes and ROCk, was the 3,700-acre country estate of Frank Phillips in the early 1900s. The wildlife preserve is home to over 30 varieties of animals, including buffalo, bison, elk, longhorn cattle and deer that roam freely throughout the grounds. Don’t miss the museum. It showcases a collection of art and artifacts that tells the alluring story of the American west. In addition, there’s the Lodge ranch house and children’s petting zoo.
Prairie Song (918/534-2662) is an eclectic frontier village sprawling across a private working ranch. The owner, Kenneth Tate, personally designed and built more than 28 buildings of native stone and hand-hewn timbers that include a log cabin, trading post, jailhouse, post office, and depot. All have items that date back to the late 1800s.
Families will enjoy the sounds of world-class entertainment at the Bartlesville Community Center (918/337-ARTS), featuring a 1700-seat auditorium that’s the venue for local ballet, theater, choral and symphony offerings.
Kiddie Park opened in 1947 and offers children 12 and under 16 different midway rides, still priced at 25¢ each. It’s open weekends from from early September to May, then daily after school let out, except for Sundays, Monday and the 4th of July.
Around the Area
Nearby Dewey, the site of the Tom Mix Museum (918/534-1555), will especially appeal to the older generations. Mix, known as the “king of the cowboys” was the star of the silent film and early talkies era. Showcased are the actor’s western gear and memorabilia, as well as a life-size replica of his horse, Tony.
For another taste of nostalgia, cross the street to the Dewey Hotel Museum, and then on to Linger Longer Antiques & Old Fashioned Soda Fountain for a malt or banana split, and a browse through antiques, collectibles and craft booths.
The Keepsake Candle Factory and Country Store demonstrates the art of handcrafting “antique candles” and gives off an aura of vibrant scents. Red Dirt Soap Company, named for Oklahoma’s red dirt, gives you a peek into the craft of creating bathing delights for the entire family.
The perfect hub for the family is the Price Tower, completed in 1956. It was designed and constructed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who billed his tallest built skyscraper as “the tree that escaped the crowded forest.”
The Inn at Price Tower offers 21 high design guestrooms and suites, as well as upscale dining in its dramatically cantilevered Copper Restaurant. The multifaceted Price Tower Arts Center offers a one-of-a-kind experience of outstanding collections and exhibitions of art, architecture and design. For reservations, phone 877/424-2424 or visit www.innatpricetower.com.
Hotel Phillips offers quality family accommodations with a very popular B&B Weekend Package. For reservations, phone 800/331-0706 or visit the website at www.hotelphillips66.com
You can get to Bartlesville via Tulsa International Airport, serviced by most major airlines and just 40 miles to the south. For more information on planning local fun and finding getaway packages, contact the Bartlesville Area Convention &Visitors Bureau.
Photos by Mel Greenberg
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.