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COPAN: A once bustling town, now peacefully quiet

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
The town has a total area of 1 square mile.
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COPAN, Okla. – A town with 117 years under its belt and 733 current residents that can be found in Washington County, 14 miles north of Bartlesville on U.S. Highway 75 was this month’s destination for our Small Town Matters.

The general consensus of employees and residents in the City Hall and the used-to-be bank, now quilt shop was that “it’s just your regular small town.”

According to Wikipedia, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway built a station in 1899, which it named Copan, after the city of Copán, Honduras. However, when a post office was established there in 1900, it was designated as Lawton.

The settlement was renamed Weldon in 1901, but reverted to Copan in 1904. It was incorporated under that name in Indian Territory in 1906. The Copan school district was founded in 1906, as well. By 1907, the town had 305 residents.

The blossoming oil industry in Washington County spurred the growth of Copan. The Prairie Oil and Gas Company built Oklahoma's first trunk pipeline, which ran from Bartlesville to Humboldt, Kansas in 1904. It also included an oil storage terminal near Copan, with 107 tanks, designed to hold 35,000 barrels of crude oil. The Copan oil field was discovered in 1907, and had nearly 2,200 producing wells by 1915.

The town managed to survive and recover from major fires in 1906, 1911 and 1912. It enjoyed a spurt of growth after the creation of nearby Lake Hulah in 1951, and Lake Copan in 1983. Population reached a high of 960 in 1980, largely because the lakes increased tourism. The town economy is now largely based on travel and recreation.

A downtown strip used to house a bank, post office, hardware, auto and grocery stores. Now, a group of fourth and fifth generation Copan residents are turning it into a quilt, alterations and upholstery shops and history center.

Jan Custer, Gwen Engelbert and Donna Stephens sat in the quilt shop eating their lunch with friends and great grandchildren while telling me about the town and “why Copan.”

“We’ve just lived here forever,” Stephens said. Engelbert said family has kept her in the town, to which the group of women all agreed to.

“It used to be a boom town,” Custer said. “We’re like all these other little towns, kind of just died when the highway went around us.”

While talking to the utility billing clerk, Devin Scott, in the City Hall building a gentleman who believes he is the oldest resident in town was visiting Scott and Deanna Schroeder, deputy clerk.

“There might be some people older than me, but they moved here after I did,” Bob Wilson, 85, said.

“When I moved down here from Goodman, Missouri on May 8, 1952 there was no place anywhere for rent. I stayed with my wife’s brother down in Dewey for a couple weeks and then I found a place a mile and a half east of the cement plant, that’s where I worked.”

In 1960 Wilson built a house and “that’s my story,” he said with a smile. “My wife hates it, but I like it,” referring to living in Copan for the past 64 years.

Photos by Red Dirt Report's Sarah Hussain.

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Sarah Hussain

Director of Communications


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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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