This Week in Sapulpa History: Enter Here, Exit There—Turnpike Opens

Rachel Whitney, Curator,
Sapulpa Historical Museum

The community had been waiting all week for the event on Saturday, May 16, 1953.

Turner Turnpike Postcard, circa 1953.

Years of build, months of planning, and a great effort for the workers and speakers to prepare for the grand opening.

The central Oklahoma Interstate connected the state’s two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The toll road stretches out to 88 miles. It was authorized by Governor Roy J. Turner in 1947. This turnpike is the “oldest of the state’s eleven turnpikes.” The route was assigned as Interstate 44, and named after the Governor as the Turner Turnpike.

Leading up to the grand opening, “Sapulpa played a large role in Pike dedication.” Announced on May 13, 1953, the ceremony for the gates to open would be held on Saturday morning, beginning at 9 A.M. May 16th.

Harold Dodd, “who is in charge of the Sapulpa ceremonies reports that the program at the gate will be brief.”

“The opening of the Sapulpa gate of the Turner Turnpike…as a formal opening, will be made in a ceremony in which city officials, a representative of the Ministerial Alliance, and Miss Sapulpa will” partake in.

“Master of ceremonies for the occasion will be H.Q. Gilliam, Mayor of Sapulpa. Invocation will be given by Rev. Lonnie Osborn, pastor of the Assembly of God Church and chairman of the Sapulpa Ministerial Alliance. Orville Bumpus, city manager of Sapulpa, will then give a short address of dedication before Miss Sapulpa, Barbara Farra, performs the formal ribbon cutting. John Bingman will introduce Barbara.”

“In a pageant of transportation, the lovely Miss Sapulpa will occupy a carefully-constructed ox-cart built by high school students under Lamar Stevens, woodwork instructor at the high school.”

“The junior high school band will perform the closing number, then the group will proceed to Stroud, for the opening ceremony there.” The band was led byEmmett Pair at the Sapulpa gate, then by Garth Blake at the Stroud ceremony.

“A police escort supplied by the Sapulpa police department will head the group.”

The cavalcade would leave the Sapulpa gate for the Stroud gate. “Sapulpans are reminded that all rides on the Turnpike will be without charge until 3 o’clock, giving everyone plenty of time to attend the 9 o’clock Sapulpa ceremonies, proceed to the Stroud event at 11 o’clock and return to Sapulpa at no cost.”

Ceremony at Stroud, Sapulpa Herald, May 17, 1953

Although Sapulpa’s Pageant of Progress led in two cities, the Stroud ceremony was considered the “main ceremony.” Many guests were involved with the Stroud gate opening. “R.P. Matthews and J. Wiley Richardson, vice-chairman of the Oklahoma Turnpike authority, was master of ceremonies for the dedication” Names such as Roberta Bushyhead of Tulsa sang a solo, Shirley Shortridge of Stroud, Shirley Wilson of Oklahoma City, Connie Willingham of Bristow, Jo Ann Rushing of Chandler, and Gov. Rogers of Wyoming were part of the ceremonies. “Addresses by Former Governor Turner and by Governor Johnston Murray followed.”

 “The Turner Turnpike began construction as a $38 million project.” It opened to all traffic on May 16th, 1953 at 3 PM. “The Will Rogers Turnpike opened in 1957; H.E. Bailey Turnpike in 1964; The Indian Nation Turnpike in 1966; the Muskogee Turnpike in 1969; and the Cimarron Turnpike in 1975. The Chickasaw opened in 1991; the Cherokee and Kilpatrick Turnpike in 2000; and the Creek Turnpike in 1992.” Another Sapulpa exit opened in 2007.

(Sapulpa Herald May 13, 15, 17, 1953; March 18, 2007; July 23, 2009; Wikipedia)