NORMAN — During the land rush of 1889, home seekers came here by wagon, buggies, on horseback and on foot to found a new town along the Santa Fe railroad tracks. Stakes were claimed on both sides of the tracks, and the population of Norman in April of that year was 500.
The town incorporated in May 1891 and was named for Abner Norman, a surveyor for the Santa Fe Railway. The county was named for President Grover Cleveland.
A statue of Abner Norman graces the front entrance to city hall, something that would surely surprise him were he to return today to the little patch of prairie where his work crew first burned the words “Norman's Camp” into an elm tree. It would turn into a thriving town and eventually an enduring city — the state's third-largest with an estimated population this year of about 114,000.
The railroad laid the foundation for Norman to flourish into a prominent city, but it also owes its growth to early mayor T.R. Waggoner, who directed a bill through the Territorial Legislature to make the city home to the state's first institution of higher learning.
Norman was selected for the University of Oklahoma contingent upon the county passing bonds to construct a building. Residents were required to donate 40 acres of land for a campus site. The residents of Norman were successful in all their plans to be OU's home and by 1895, the university enrolled 100 students. Today, the Norman campus has an enrollment of about 23,000.
OU is well known for its sporting events, with more than 80,000 people routinely attending football games. The university also is home to two state museums, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
The National Weather Center, located in Norman, houses a unique collection of university, state and federal organizations that work together to improve the understanding of events related to the Earth's atmosphere. The Storm Prediction Center, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also is in Norman, which lies within Tornado Alley, a geographic region where tornadic activity is predominant.
Some say Norman is the “weather capital” of the world, and some residents are behind a push to open a weather museum in the city to commemorate its weather-related history.
The city has much to offer, besides OU and a weather industry. It has one of the top-ranked public school systems in the nation, boasts a range of festivals and large public events annually and is only about 14 miles from Lake Thunderbird, which offers boating, swimming and other recreational opportunities.
In 2008, CNN's Money Magazine ranked Norman as the sixth-best small city in the United States in which to live.