Tahlequah was incorporated under Cherokee law on December 20, 1890, and under that incorporation Mr. G. W. Hughes was elected as the town’s first mayor and Messrs. J. S. Stapler, E. C. Boudinot, Jr., T. J. McSpadden, T. J. Adair and B. W. Foreman were chosen as the first aldermen. The town did not increase in population to any extent for many years, partly on account of its remoteness from any railroad, and perhaps, like most other capital towns, it seemed content with entertaining the National Council when in session, and with patiently waiting for the next session to arrive.
As the years rolled by, however, other towns began to spring up and grow and finally the citizens of Tahlequah woke up and decided that they could build a real town also. They concluded that Tahlequah should have a Federal jail in which to confine Federal prisoners who were captured in their part of the country instead of hauling them in wagons thirty-five miles across the country to Muskogee. They interviewed Judge John R. Thomas of the Federal court, who assured them that he would recommend that their wishes be satisfied in that matter.
Chambers of commerce or boards of trade were being organized in the various towns of the territory and Tahlequah determined not to be behind the times in this respect, and on August 23, 1897, the citizens of Tahlequah met in the Cherokee Council house for the purpose of organizing a board of trade or commercial club. It was the concensus of opinion of the 100 men assembled that the time had arrived for Tahlequah to get busy in looking out for its own interests and to keep pace with the other towns of the territory in pushing forward for more business and better conditions. A board of directors was elected consisting of Messrs. J. W. McSpadden, J. A. Lawrence, T. J. Adair, Percy Wyly, J. S. Stapler, J. P. Buster, Waddie Hudson, W. P. Thompson, E. E. Starr, R. C. Fuller, A. M. Crafton, J. T. Cunningham, James King and John E. Thompson. These directors were all pioneers and property owners and they immediately got busy in cleaning up and improving the town. They devoted their time and money toward securing such needed improvements as would make Tahlequah a first class town.
After being an inland town for sixty years, Tahlequah citizens concluded that the time had arrived to build a railroad and several attempts were made before they were permitted to hear the whistle of the locomotive. The right-of-way was granted for a north and south railroad and the road was graded for many miles, but the contractors, for some reason, fell down on their proposition and the road was never completed.
During the early part of 1902, however, a line of railroad was projected from Fayetteville, Ark., to Tahlequah, for which the citizens of Tahlequah made a liberal donation, and during the Autumn of the same year the road was extended on to Muskogee and Okmulgee. This railroad was first known as the Ozark and Cherokee Central, but was later absorbed by and became a branch of the Frisco system.
This road winds around the picturesque hills and valleys of the territory, making the distance between stations much longer than the route by which the crow flies. It has been intimated that the projectors of the road purposely stretched out these distances as much as possible, with ‘ the hope of being able to sell out at a fixed price per mile. Be that as it may, the ride from Muskogee to Tahlequah and on east to the Arkansas line is one of the most picturesque in this part of the country. Soon after this road was completed the resplendent scenery along the Illinois River and its tributaries, a few miles east of Tahlequah, together with the good fishing and hunting, attracted the attention of the residents of the cities of the eastern part of the state and numerous club-houses were erected which have become very popular summer resorts. Wauhillau, the largest of these clubhouses, is located on the Barron Fork, a tributary of the Illinois River, while the Sequoyah Club is located on the bank of the river.
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.