History of El Reno and Canadian County

Bid Opening in 1889

The eastern half of Canadian County was opened to homestead settlement on April 22, 1889, and the western half north of the Canadian River was opened three years later.  The Rock Island Railroad Line was extended from Caldwell, Kansas to El Reno.  The building of the Choctaw Railway eastward from Fort Reno through El Reno to Oklahoma City was actively underway through the year 1889.

The building of the Rock Island Line through El Reno caused the final abandonment of Reno City.  As a result, the resident decided to move to El Reno, loading their household goods-even their buildings, onto wagons and crude rollers to cross the shallow, unbridged river.  A three-story hotel was stranded on the riverbed, but was operated continuously until it was moved to more stable ground.

El Reno was established in 1889 and was named for General Jesse L. Reno, who was killed in the battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862.  The “EL” was prefixed to differentiate it from the Post Offices at Reno City and Fort Reno.  El Reno won the county seat in an election held in 1890.

Canadian County received its name from the two Canadian rivers and was first organized in 1890 as County Number 4.  Governor George Steel defined it geographic limits in conformity with the provisions of the Organic Act under which the territory and its several counties were organized.  Its area then included only that part of the present county that lies east of the 98th Meridian-only 470 square miles.  On April 19, 1892, when the opening of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indian Reservation surplus lands was arranged, the county area was expanded approximately 325 square miles by the addition of the portion west of the 98th Meridian.  On August 6, 1901, as a result of the opening of Wichita-Caddo Reservation surplus lands, the area of the county was further increased 100 square miles by the addition of the portion south of the South Canadian River.

Great Land Drawing Here

August 6, 1901, was the date of the great land drawing held in El Reno.  On this date it is estimated our population for the day jumped to an all-time high of more than 75,000 persons.

Cheyenne-Arapaho Agency

Four miles north and two miles west of El Reno is the Concho Indian Agency, where Cheyenne0Arapaho children and children of other tribes attended school.  Near the school is a small graveyard in which Brinton Darlington, the first Indian Agent is buried.

Federal Correctional Institution

The Federal Correctional Institution, located 2 miles west of El Reno, was opened in 1934.  The institution employs 380 civilians from El Reno and the surrounding areas.  It houses approximately 1400 inmates over the age of 18.  About 1200 inmates are housed in the minimum-security satellite camp.  The 3000-acre farm provides beef and milk for El Reno and four other federal correctional facilities.  The institution is a hub of inmate movement for the Bureau of Prisons with bus and airlift movement daily during the week.  Inmates are required to work or attend school while incarcerated and are required to attend school until Eighth grade requirements are met.  Higher levels of education are available to those who wish to pursue it.  All education is accomplished at the institution.

Approximately 450 inmates are employed in the metal factory.  the factory provides metal products for other military and civilian federal agencies.  A chemical abuse unit has a variety of programs to help offenders with a history of alcohol and drug dependency.  Chaplains oversee religious activities.  The food service department serves over 4300 meals daily.  Dental and medical facilities include a 25-bed hospital.

Rock Island Railroad

The Rock Island Railroad had the Southern Division headquarters in El Reno.  This Division extended from Herlington, Kansas to Galveston, Texas and from Memphis, Tennessee to Tucumcari, New Mexico for main lines, with branch lines of the main lines at Stuggart, Arkansas and Mangum, Ponca City, Warren and Okeene, Oklahoma.

There were 950 employees working at El Reno involved in an industrial and classification switch yard, a diesel shop for engine maintenance, a car shop for car maintenance and rebuilding, and a new painting shop.  main support personnel were involved in the division operations.  The annual payroll was $14,000,000.00.  After 128 years, the line filed for bankruptcy on March 17, 1975.  A flood of reorganization plans and millions of dollars in loans followed, but the line officially shut down March 30, 1980.

Canadian County Jail and Stables

On October 2, 1906, the Board of County Commissioners of Canadian County Oklahoma territory accepted the low bid of $18,000 by A.C. Kreipke for the erection of a county jail building.  Architect for the jail was S.A. Layton, who also designed the Oklahoma State Capitol.  The new jail was completed and accepted by the county board in May 1907.

The building was remodeled in 1974, but on November 10, 1982 the State Health Commissioner closed the second floor of the jail because of health and safety violations.  In May of 1984, what was then the oldest operating jail in the states was closed.  Then in January 1986, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Plans are to restore the jail to its original design and use it as a tourist attraction.  The interior has been used by the Canadian County Sheriffs Office and was used to store evidence for the department until recently in 2017.  Preservation El Reno, Inc. plans to restore the exterior of the building.

The Stables, which are located behind the Canadian County Jail, was build in 1910 era.  These stables were used by the Sheriffs office for their horses and carriages.  Jail trustees who lived on the second floor cared for horses and carriages.  The entrance was on the East side along with the hayloft in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  In the 1950’s the South side of the building was used by the Sheriff’s office to place their automobiles.  Then in the 1980’s, the stables were used for Department of Human Services and the Canadian County Courthouse until the new buildings were built.  Preservation El Reno, Inc. has completed the exterior and re-insulation of the Cupla and standing seam metal roof.  The restoration of the interior has been completed as well.

William I. Goff House

The William I. Goff House, located on west Watts Street, was the first El Reno home to be listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.  The house, constructed by W.I. Goff in 1900, has 15 rooms and cost $2100 to build.  The colonial revival style house was accepted by the National Historic Preservation Trust to be placed on the Register because of its architectural merits.  In 1987, the Goff House was purchased and restored to its original splendor and was operated as a bed-and-breakfast inn.  It is now privately owned.

El Reno Carnegie Library

The El Reno Carnegie Library building was completed in May of 1905 and was funded by an Andrew Carnegie grant in the amount of $12,500.  The library was the fourth Carnegie Library built in Oklahoma and is currently the oldest Carnegie Library building in the State still used as a library.

Original features of the downstairs section include embossed metal ceilings, marble lobby and stairs and the charge desk, which was built in 1909.  The decorative terra cotta above the desk was painted in 1953.  the second floor of the library was originally an auditorium with a stage at the west end.  In 1927 the stage was walled off and the ceiling lowered in what is now used as the Children’s Library.  Recent additions to the building include the Edna Mae Armold Archives room built in 1964 and the reference room and Mary K. Ashbrook meeting room completed in 1980.  A new roof was completed in 1999.  As of June 2017, the exterior is undergoing an extensive restoration.