Stilwell, the county seat and largest town of Adair County, was named for a Mr. Stilwell who was the first superintendent of the Kansas City Southern Railroad which traverses the entire length of the county from north to south. The city is located very near the geographical center of the county and it first appeared on the map in 1895, about the time the railroad builders reached that point, although a post office by the name of Flint, a general store and a few houses had been in existence in that neighborhood for many years, and the New Hope Methodist Church, established by the Missionaries, was in the same vicinity.
Samuel Johnson, a Cherokee, owned the land upon which Stilwell first began to build and as the town began to grow, tracts of land belonging to Lizzie Freeman, wife of Ben Freeman, of Judge Charles Patterson and Henry Dannenberg, were added to the townsite.
All these persons were Cherokees and all were pioneers of Stilwell, when the name of the post office was changed from Flint to Stilwell and Thomas Johnson became the first postmaster of the new town.
All of these pioneers have passed on to the happy hunting grounds except Samuel Johnson who resides in a comfortable home in Stilwell located on the same spot of ground where his log cabin of pre-war days stood.
Rufus Allison, Paden & Graham, J. L. Cox and A. Shannon were among-the pioneer merchants, and R. I. Hyatt established the first drug store.
Mr. J. C. Holleman was Stilwell’s first mechanic, he having located there several months before the railroad arrived. He was adept in repairing farm machinery, wagons and buggies. A few years after locating there he built a wagon and carriage factory and was one of the busiest men in Stilwell.
Mr. D. B. Collums for many years has been one of the substantial citizens of Stilwell. Soon after statehood he was appointed by Governor Haskell as a member of the first state textbook commission. Upon that commission devolved the onerous task of selecting all the textbooks to be used in the public schools of the state. Mr. Collums has filled other positions of honor in the county and state and at present is editor of the Stilwell Standard, the principal newspaper of Adair County.
An institution which has rendered faithful service .to the citizens of Stilwell and Adair County is its flouring mill and elevator. It was established in 1905 and besides grinding wheat and corn for its customers, it ships large quantities of grain to Kansas City and St. Louis.
One of the first permanent general stores in Stilwell was established by Mr. J. L. Morton. He came from Arkansas and began selling goods in 1908 and as the town grew his business expanded. In 1909 he erected a substantial two story brick store building and filled it with stocks of dry goods, clothing and groceries. For several years he also operated a sawmill and shipped large quantities of hardwood to Kansas City.
In 1906 the Cane Hill and Stilwell Telephone Company was organized with Mr. R. S. Robinson as general manager. The lines of this company were gradually extended until Stilwell was finally placed in telephonic communication with many towns of Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas.
Mr. S. M. Crocker, a Cherokee by blood, was one of the pioneer ministers, who later in life studied law and practiced in the Cherokee courts and in the State courts. He was a native of South Carolina, educated in Tuscumbia, Ala., and, accompanied by his brother, S. B. Crocker, came west in 1870 and located in the Cherokee Nation. Both of these men were Baptist preachers and for many years were engaged in missionary work among the Indians.
Mr. F. A. Blanck was one of the town builders who located in Stilwell when the town was young. He engaged in the lumber business for several years and, assisted by his brother, C. S. Blanck, he built quite a number of houses and for a while conducted a general merchandise business. About 1908 the two brothers took up the real estate and farm loan business and their transactions were extended over several adjoining counties.
Dr. J. A. Patton was one of the pioneer physicians of Stilwell, locating there when the town was scarcely a year old. He came from Arkansas and was a graduate of a medical college in Louisville, Ky.
Substantial churches are now maintained in Stilwell, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Christians being the principal denominations represented. The Methodist Church was the first to be completed, Rev. G. M. Byers being for many years the minister in charge.
The Baptists, Christians and Presbyterians followed in the order named and each of these four religious bodies now has a good church edifice and each maintains an active Sunday school organization.
Stilwell built an excellent water plant in 1911, getting its supply of water from springs that flow out of the hills two miles away. A large cement basin was constructed near the springs and from it the water is carried through pipes to all parts of the city.
In 1911 the city also installed an electric light plant for the inhabitants of the city. The waterworks and light plant were erected by the city out of the proceeds of bonds voted by the citizens.
In 1916 a substantial County courthouse was erected in Stilwell. It is built of native stone, is two stories in height and contains suitable office rooms for all of the county officials.
Stilwell has developed a very good system of public schools which now employs a corps of thirteen teachers. Its principal school building is a two story brick, with large basement. Apparatus has been installed for teaching chemistry, domestic science and agriculture.
The city has, however, outgrown its school facilities and preparations are now being made for erecting a suitable high school building. It will be provided with modern apparatus and will increase the efficiency of the school work by relieving the present crowded conditions of the schools.
Stilwell supports two substantial banks. The Adair County Bank, established in 1907, was the first in the field, and after operating for four years as a state bank it was reorganized and changed into a national bank, now bearing the name of the First National Bank of Stilwell. In. June, 1914; another bank was organized under the banking laws of Oklahoma, called the First State Bank of Stilwell. These banks are conservatively managed and enjoy the confidence of the people of the city and county.
Stilwell is now a prosperous little city of about sixteen hundred inhabitants, has good homes and is a very pleasant place in which to live. Its prosperity will be very materially advanced when the cheap hillsides tributary to the city are given an opportunity to produce the fine crops of apples, grapes and berries for which nature has designed them.
Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.