The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 12, 2011

History hits home in Watonga

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

WATONGA — The 1901 home of Oklahoma Territorial Governor T.B. Ferguson soon will undergo restorative work.

The balcony across the front of the home, running along the top of the porch, will be replaced, and damage from a roof leak near the main chimney will be repaired. It’s a matter of finishing the fundraising and hiring the help.

“We’ve been fundraising for a year,” said Mary Deane, director of T.B. Ferguson House Museum.

One fundraising event, coming up Friday, is a chicken and noodle dinner and T.B. Ferguson birthday celebration at Blaine County Fairgrounds. Tickets are $6 in advance and available from the museum, Watonga Public Library and Watonga Chamber of Commerce. Anyone who does not have an advance ticket can give a donation at the door.

Donations toward the $5,000 to $10,000 in needed work can be sent to Friends of the Ferguson Museum, 519 N. Weigle, Watonga, OK 73772. Friends of the Ferguson Museum is a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are fully tax-deductible.

On the grounds of the museum are two other historic buildings. One is the first Watonga jail, built in 1893. The other is a remount station for the U.S. Cavalry, originally built in 1873.

T.B. Ferguson, born in 1857 near Des Moines, Iowa, brought his family to Watonga in 1892 after a land run that settled the area and established the Watonga Republican newspaper.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him territorial governor in November 1901,  the same year he and his wife, Elva, built their Watonga home. He served as governor until January 1906.

Ferguson is remembered for organizing the Board of Agriculture and for promoting the state’s participation in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903. During his administration, Ferguson supported increased funding for education and prison reform.

Ferguson pressed for the “herd law,” which required land used for grazing to be fenced so cattle didn’t destroy settlers’ crops. He also saw to laws upgrading mental health institutions and allowing osteopaths to practice in the state. Deficit spending was eliminated during Ferguson’s administration.

After leaving office when his term as territorial governor expired, the Fergusons returned to Watonga and to the operation of the Watonga Republican.

T.B. Ferguson died in 1921. At that point, Elva continued operation of the newspaper and became a syndicated columnist.

“That was unheard of in that time,” Deane said.

The house was sold after the 1947 death of Elva Ferguson. Over the years, it fell into disrepair.

In the late 1950s a local organization called the Outlook Study Club began efforts to see the home restored and turned into a museum. It was opened to the public Oct. 3, 1972.

The Outlook Study Club eventually turned the home over to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, which operated it for a while, then turned it over to Oklahoma Historical Society.

Novelist Edna Ferber’s book, “Cimarron,” was inspired by the story of the T.B. Ferguson family.