The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

July 20, 2013

Boom to ghosts: A once-thriving community gets left behind by progress

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — Today it may be best known by commuters as a potential speed trap, but Ramona was once a thriving community of national distinction.

Located 17 miles south of Bartlesville, the town was once home to the world’s largest crude oil storage facility with a thriving economy of banks, hotels, drug stores, doctors’ offices and restaurants.

“It was a boomtown in the early 1900s and had a population of almost 5,000 during the peak of the oil boom. There’s about 450 people today, and it’s pretty much a ghost town,” said Gene Crabtree, a lifelong Ramona resident.

Even though the 73-year-old Crabtree was born after the heydays, he recalled frequenting some of the business and commercial establishments that dotted his hometown community where everyday necessities still were accessible and nearby.

“Everything was local. You could get about anything you needed. There were six service stations, hardware, furniture, clothes and grocery stores. There was even an iceman to bring ice,” he said, recalling the special trips in his grandfather’s wagon.

According to documents from Bartlesville Area History Museum, oil, cattle and the railroad provided the foundation of Ramona in the early 1900s. Yet the town’s original site was established several years earlier when a buffalo hunter and fur trapper built a log cabin in 1881 on the tributary of Double Creek, with the first post office opening in 1889, the Examiner-Enterprise reported.

Documents from the BAHM also state James Stokes, a surveyor, opened a store in the abandoned log cabin and sold flour, cornmeal, salt, molasses, jerky, ammunition and a variety of other goods to workers on the railroad building through the region.

The settlement was first under the name of Bon Ton and then Hobson, but changed again after the Santa Fe Railway established a depot in 1900. It was called Ramona, a name from a novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, said Crabtree. The town was incorporated on Sept. 1, 1901.

The lush bluestem grass surrounding the area beefed up cattle and fattened the local ranchers’ wallets, adding wealth to the town’s prosperity as the railroad picked up herds of cattle to transport to distant locations.

After the discovery of oil, the town’s population grew to 1,800 in 1905 and skyrocketed to more than 5,000 residents by 1908. Prairie Oil and Gas Co., a division of Standard Oil, constructed a huge tank farm north of town during this period.

BAHM documents state 200 men were employed in building 35,000 barrel crude oil storage tanks. The farm of more than 200 tanks could hold in excess of 4,000,000 barrels of crude. Some remnants of earthen dikes that surrounded the steel tanks can be seen today.

Numerous businesses flourished catering to oil field workers and there were several boarding houses where tank farm workers would reside. According to Crabtree, some homes remained boarding houses after the boom, providing lodging for teachers.

“We had some stay with us. They usually kept to themselves, unless it was a holiday like Thanksgiving and they couldn’t make it back home or something,” said Crabtree, a retired brick mason.

A Ramona-area subscription school was replaced by a public facility in 1900, and a brick school building was constructed in 1909. Local petroleum and natural gas revenue benefited the Ramona school system, making it one of Oklahoma’s best.

Crabtree remembers the town still being busy, long after the oil boom. But, he said, a number of factors contributed to its gradual decline, particularly when pipelines replaced the need to store large quantities of oil near the production sites. The town’s huge tank farm was finally closed prior to World War II.

Shortly after, the railroad stopped picking up cattle and road improvements from Tulsa to Bartlesville made it practical to go to those towns to shop and work, according to BAHM documents.

Fires were a major hazard during and after boom town days, driving many merchants out, vacating buildings prone to fires.

“There were still a lot of businesses in town when I was a kid, but it was dwindling back then, and now it’s practically nothing compared to what it once was,” he said.

A small handful of businesses are located in Ramona today, and the town is one of four communities that make up the consolidated Caney Valley School District.

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Source: Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

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