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How Curious: A City That Never Was?

Why is there a Putnam City school district in Oklahoma but no Putnam City?

KGOU listener Tim Spindle fielded this exact question a while back. He operates a hotline for Oklahoma libraries, where he and a team answer thousands of customer questions, from “What library book should I read next?” to “What is the Mayan word for squirrel?” 

Spindle, who’s from the Putnam City area, reached out to How Curious for more information on its history.


A Man With A Plan


Israel Mercer Putnam moved to Oklahoma City in July 1901, after earning a law degree from the University of Georgia. Putnam opened a law firm, but he found greater success in real estate. 

In 1902, he formed the Putnam Company and developed several projects, including the Putnam Heights and Military Park neighborhoods. The company bought 2,000 acres of land northwest of Oklahoma City in 1910, where Putnam planned to build his dream metropolis--Putnam City.

Israel Mercer Putnam

At the time, the state's first legislature was debating where to put Oklahoma's capitol building. Putnam, who served in the legislature as a Democrat, offered up his 2,000 acres.

A proposed layout shows Putnam City Loop, a large road curving around commercial and residential properties and into an open green space, “Putnam City Grove,” where Putnam hoped to build the capitol. 

According to the Oklahoma History Center, the state House of Representatives accepted Putnam’s offer, but the Senate objected. Several Oklahoma City leaders felt the site was too far from downtown and the central business district. 

Another real estate firm offered 40 acres at Northeast 23rd Street and North Lincoln Boulevard--where Oklahoma’s state capitol sits today.


Independent School District No. 1

Following the failed state capitol deal, Putnam found another use for his property. In 1914, when leaders of four one-room schools decided to consolidate under a new Oklahoma law, Putnam gave them the land. The first classes were held the same year in what is now Putnam City Schools' Arnett Building. Five years later, in 1919, the district graduated its first three students. 

“The first few years, the school buses were horse-drawn here,” said Mike Brake, who runs the Putnam City Schools Museum, a building crammed with yearbooks, sports uniforms and other memorabilia from the district’s history. 

“People rode their horses to school and they had a hitching post out front. It was country out here--really country.”

Putnam remained in the land business in Oklahoma before eventually moving to Texas, where he died in 1961. 

Today, Putnam City Schools consists of 27 schools across Bethany, Oklahoma City and Warr Acres. Despite Putnam’s vision, there is still no Putnam City municipality.

How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly. This episode was edited by Jacob McCleland and Caroline Halter. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to curious@kgou.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Claire has previously worked at KGOU, where she helped create a podcast, How Curious, and hosted local news during Morning Edition. Previously, she was an intern on the city desk at WBEZ in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School. Claire has reported on street performers, temp workers, criminal court cases, police dogs, Christmas tree recycling and more.
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