When visiting our favorite state park, we tend to pay attention to the most visible elements of our surroundings: countless shade trees along unspoiled lands, refreshing lakes and breathtaking views of nature's beauty. We're so busy enjoying these great perks that we never stop to think about the rich history behind our state parks and the origins of these Oklahoma treasures.
Tucked away in the densely wooded areas and rolling hills of eastern Osage County is a rare gem in the state park system. Osage Hills State Park is one of seven original Oklahoma state parks constructed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It remains a picturesque reminder of our state's past.
During the Great Depression, the mission of the corps was to recruit unemployed and inexperienced young men and teach them meaningful job skills. When construction of Osage Hills began in 1935, the 200 members of Company 895 were housed in living quarters formerly located at the north end of the park.
Today, skeletal remnants of the camp such as concrete and rock wall foundations, an amphitheater and a lone standing chimney still exist on the ground where the quarters once stood.
During their tenure, the workers built park structures incorporating native stone and timber that was quarried and milled from the area surrounding the job site. The thorough detail of the workers' meticulous handiwork can still be seen today in the extraordinary structures that remain. These include guest cabins, picnic shelters, in-ground grills, group camp cabins, a group community building and bridges.
The foremost example of workmanship is the rock wall and sign at the park entrance. On top of the wall, assorted stones are placed in an intricate mosaic sunburst pattern reflecting the precise artistic detail crafted by the young men.
This structure follows the design that is evident nationwide in parks built by the corps, known as “naturalistic architecture.” The style and general appearance present themselves as if they have always been a part of the surroundings and were formed within the backdrop of the land.
Although the eight park cabins retain the rustic appeal of their 1930s construction, all have been renovated with up-to-date amenities including energy saving appliances, natural wood furnishings and air-conditioning. The stone fireplaces are popular with fall and winter guests.