A Look Back At The Historic Artesian Hotel - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

A Look Back At The Historic Artesian Hotel

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SULPHUR, OK-- Excitement is growing in the city of Sulphur as the Chickasaw Nation prepares to officially open the new Artesian hotel more than 50 years after the original burned to the ground.

From movie stars to a president, we take a look back at the fascinating history of the first Artesian hotel and what it meant for the people of Sulphur.

The 1900 census reported the population of Sulphur Springs at less than 1,200 people, but in a few short years, the town was booming. A national park opened and tourists were flocking from across the country and in 1906, the original Artesian hotel was built to accommodate the masses and quickly became one of the most popular destinations in the south.

Lifelong Sulphur resident Billie Holdridge, 90, remembers the old hotel well, "The dining room in the original Artesian was fabulous, spotlessly clean. So was the lobby."

"The dining room, we thought, was quite large and was very formal for this part of the country. They had starched white table cloths and napkins and the waiters had a white towel over their left hand, you know, very formal," remembers 94-year old Sulphur resident Lenell Portman.  

It was very formal and very popular among the rich and famous. Oklahoma's first governor Charles Haskell spent many summers there.  The 27th President William Howard Taft was also a popular guest, and that's not all. In the '40's and 50's actor John Wayne stayed there while shooting movies and so did fellow actor Roy Rogers.

Lenell Portman was four years old when her family moved to Sulphur Springs.  Right after high school she married the superintendent. He passed away in '96 but Portman says the hotel was very special to him. "When he moved here he was a single school teacher and lived in a rooming house just across the street and he ate over here at their dining hall all the time. So, it's been a part of our family going way, way back."

But all those fun times and  fond memories went up in smoke. On January 14, 1962, a massive fire burned The Artesian to the ground.  Holdridge says it was a night she'll never forget. "When we drove into the edge of Sulphur we could see the smoke. It was a tearful thing. I cried, I couldn't help it.  It was part of my life."

A part of the town died that night, but five decades later the Chickasaw Nation decided to bring back those memories and a piece of history by building the new Artesian hotel on the same corner.  

"We're actually very thrilled to be a part of this opportunity to open the Artesian hotel," says Nick Starns, Artesian Area GM. "We're going to have 81 guest rooms in the hotel, 77 standard rooms and four themed suites.  We're also going to be offering an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, bath house, spa services and a variety of other amenities that include numerous retail shops, also."

The Chickasaw Nation is hoping that the new Artesian will be a perfect place for families to vacation. They have the Chickasaw National Recreation Area across the street and the Chickasaw Cultural Center just down the road.

As for those that look back with fond memories of the old hotel, they say they're now looking forward to the new Artesian.  

"Yes, I am. I just wish that it looked more like I remember it," says Holdridge. Portman adds, "As I look across the street at that beautiful visitors center, that modern building, I would like to think that we can keep this (the Artesian) in our hearts as a memory of our past, but use that building as a semblance of our future. It's a boom for our community"     

The Artesian is scheduled to open in the coming months, if you'd like to learn more about the old Artesian you can visit the Sulphur Historical Museum at 402 W Muskogee Ave and a special thank you to the Arbuckle Historical Society for providing us with the rare pictures.