Oklahoma entrepreneurs revitalize historic resort town
MEDICINE PARK, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma’s only cobblestone village, tucked into the Wichita Mountains, is enjoying an economic revival. A drive around Medicine Park just six years ago would have found a sleepy community in a state of decay. Some of the stone cabins had roofs falling in. Business structures were abandoned; some were boarded up.
Medicine Park has seen new businesses pop up along Medicine Creek, like a miniature riverwalk that other riverside cities boast. Entrepreneurs across generations said they’re drawn to the small town for similar reasons. They don’t have a formal chamber of commerce to direct activity.
The town was founded in 1908, and by the 1930s Medicine Park had become a highly fashionable resort. But after World War II, the small town of 400 seemed to fall asleep. Only a few businesses carried on, including the Old Plantation Restaurant, which dated back to 1910 in downtown Medicine Park. The granite core stone houses began falling into disrepair with lots selling from $500 to $1,000 by the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Now the buzz of chainsaws and rumble of cement trucks fill the air as newcomers and locals have begun transforming Medicine Park back into a resort town. Janis Holmes, 49-year-old owner of Cobblescones Coffee & Pastry, said she was drawn by the Wichita Mountains. Her cafe has been open downtown for two years.
“Medicine Park reminded us of Albuquerque,” she told The Journal Record . “We were able to buy a house here, and because of that, we got to know the traffic coming through town. We missed having a coffee shop, so we eventually opened this one.”
Her place is practically the only site to find a cup of morning coffee as the town slowly wakes up. She hurriedly makes an espresso for one of her regular customers while putting out a few more baked items.
“The locals really came out to help us,” Holmes said. “I had people come in offering to help us paint the place.”
The resemblance to the Southwest U.S. is what brought Tom and Kim Dyer to Medicine Park. The couple built the town’s newest building two years ago to house their Medicine Creek Olive Oil Co. They sell 25 different types of olive oil and 25 different types of balsamic vinegar, as well as spices, Italian pastas and cork wood. Most of their customers come from Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls and Duncan, and many find the company online.
“The place reminded us of Prescott, Arizona, where we use to live,” said Tom Dyer, 74.
The couple built a vacation home in Medicine Park five years ago and then permanently moved in a little over two years ago. The Dyers purchased two lots — one holds their olive oil business, while the other next door will be the site of a wine and spirits store.
“People used to tell us that they would drive into town and find nothing open,” Tom Dyer said. “We’re working on that, putting into lease agreements that the business must maintain regular business hours.”
The Holmes and the Dyers, along with a few other business owners, found their own way to Medicine Park as the Great Recession ended.
Downtown has a bandstand for music festivals and the Plantation Inn motel, as well as the Riverside Cafe, CockEyed Bob’s Eatery, Mrs. Chadwick’s Bakery, Old Plantation Restaurant, Santa’s Snack Shop, Small Mountain Tacos, BaseCamp, which rents out kayaks, Discovery Outpost Bookstore, The White Buffalo Trading Post, Park Tavern and a number of art galleries. Most of these line Medicine Creek, where there is a small riverwalk, a one-lane wooden bridge and several spillways inhabited by geese. The slopes of the surrounding hills are now becoming peppered with bed and breakfasts and rental cabins.
On a hill overlooking the small community, the town has built the Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Science Center, which has been open for two years and is another draw to the town, particularly for school-age children. Mountain bike trails have been set up along the surrounding hills.
Chad Thornton, 34, who owns most of the northern side of downtown, including both the Old Plantation Restaurant and the Plantation Inn, is a longtime Medicine Park resident. He started out as a dishwasher for Forrest Ray, the former owner of the Old Plantation, and worked at the restaurant for 15 years before becoming its owner. He owns the local Music Hall, which dates back to the 1920s. Thornton owns 50 percent of the Riverside Cafe.
“Medicine Park is sort of its own jewel,” Thornton said. “Right now it’s known as a summer and fall kind of town, but we’re drifting toward regular traditional hours for the local businesses.”
The ice cream store he is putting in next door to the Old Plantation is a testimony to his faith that Medicine Park is on the right trajectory for growth.
“There are those who wanted Medicine Park to continue being a sleepy little town,” Thornton said. “But, for me, the more shops the merrier.”
Thornton said an effort is underway to improve signage on the roads leading into town and to be added to signage within the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
“Meers is on their signs in the refuge, but not Medicine Park, so we are working to see if we can be added,” Thornton said.
Still, most businesses are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the majority of stores do not open until Friday to catch weekend trade driving into town.
Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com