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SMALL TOWN MATTERS: Newkirk

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NEWKIRK, Okla. – In his monumental and critically acclaimed history of London titled London: The Biography, author Peter Ackroyd documents how after the Great Fire in 1666 leveled the British capitol, the gray mud found on the banks of the Thames River that flows past the Houses of Parliament was used to create the bricks that were used to rebuild the city.

A similar event occurred in the community of Newkirk, eight miles from the Oklahoma-Kansas border after a fire destroyed its downtown area in the early years of the last century.

Downtown Newkirk was rebuilt in large part by using limestone that was found in several quarries outside of the community to build fireproof structures. 

And those pale limestone buildings gleam in the sun under a pale blue sky that seems to be draped over downtown Newkirk.

Their imposing architecture has been described as being Plains Romanesque, a term that conveys their formidability and stateliness.   

It is reported that decades ago, some of the elderly people in Newkirk could determine which of the different quarries was used to build individual structures based on its coloration. But such determinations were not recorded.

From a distance, the limestone somewhat resemble the iconic White Cliffs of Dover that loom out of the morning mist as one travels across the English Channel on the early ferry from Calais, France, to the port of Dover in the United Kingdom.

All of downtown Newkirk’s buildings were placed on the National Registry as a historic district   in 1984, and that designation has ensured that they have been preserved.

Newkirk, which is the county seat of Kay County, has worked to refurbish its downtown area, and most of that work has been done under the auspices of the Newkirk Main Street organization.

Newkirk was the first of the state’s smaller communities to become affiliated with the Main Street program that is part of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and did so in 1992.  

The Newkirk Main Street pioneered the use of local young people in what is called “Junior Main Street” to work to improve the community, and several other Main Streets have since started similar programs.

The second floors of some of the preserved buildings have been converted into residential lofts that provide homes for those who wish to live downtown.  

People from throughout the area gather on the second Saturday in September every year amidst those pale buildings in an event known as “Charlie Adams Day,” a gathering that includes arts and crafts booths, live music, barbecue teams whose work can be sampled, as well as  desserts that are made in Dutch ovens throughout the festivities.

Adams was a prominent member of the Newkirk community in its early years, and as part of the entertainment offered on the day that bears his name is a group of Main Street members who dress up as other local leaders from that time.  

During the holiday season, white Christmas lights reflect on the downtown buildings and several different festive events are held for both children and adults.

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About the Author

Bill O'Brien

Bill O'Brien is an attorney based in Oklahoma City.

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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