Norman History

No blog would be complete without a little history.

Located approximately 20 miles south of Oklahoma City along the Canadian River, you’ll find Norman, Oklahoma, the third-largest city in the state. With an economy primarily centered on higher education and education-related research industries, these educational roots date back to the first year Norman counted itself as a town. 

The region that would become Norman joined the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Re-located from their traditional lands following the 1832 and 1833 peace treaties, the area was home to the “Five Civilized Tribes” and became known as the Creek Nation. In 1866 the Creek Nation ceded the area back to the US following accusations they aided the Confederacy during the war. 

Four years later, the US Land Office sent a survey crew to the “Unassigned Lands” of the Oklahoma Territory that had once been the Creek Nation. Abner Norman, Chainman of the central survey area, and his crew spend 1870 to 1873 surveying the area to prepare it for white settlement. Norman’s crew camped in the same spot where just a few years later the building crew of the Santa Fe Railroad would camp while laying track through the area. While camped here, Norman’s crew burned “Norman’s Camp” into an elm tree near a watering hole. Legend claims they did it to tease Norman, whom they considered too young to be in charge. The tree remained, and the name stuck. 

A few years later, with the surveying complete, the site became the official headquarters of the Santa Fe Railway, with a passenger depot and freight station. In anticipation of the Land Rush, settlers began arriving in April 1889, and by April 22nd around 150 were living in tent camps around the depot. By the morning of April 23rd, these settlers had already started building downtown Norman, and making plans for the city. 

While other cities in the Oklahoma Territory were vying to be the capital, Norman Mayor T.R. Waggoner and other city leaders figured a better way to get their city on the map would be to have the first higher learning institution in the territory. City planners opened High Gate College in 1890, while Waggoner directed a bill through the Territorial Legislature to make Norman home of the first territorial institution of higher learning. The bill passed with the stipulation that the city donate 40 acres for a campus and raise $10,000 in bonds for construction of a building. The city agreed, and the Norman Territorial University held its first classes in 1892 in rented accommodations and completed its first building in 1893.

Waggoner and the city planners made a smart choice. Becoming home to one of the first universities solidly established Norman as an important educational center for the territory. In time the Oklahoma territory became the state of Oklahoma, and over the years Norman and the University attracted other educational and research facilities including the National Weather Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. 

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