Oklahoma is considered the most developed state in regards to its documented historic landscapes.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, works with its International Committee on Monuments and Sites to document and recognize landscapes with relevant historical background. In the United States, historic sites must be more than 50 years old.
Oklahoma has 47 documented historic landscapes, due to the work of OSU professor emeritus of landscape architecture Charles Leider and his students. His dedication to his research also led to him receiving the 2014 Citation of Merit Award from the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office.
What is a landscape?
Leider emphasizes that these landscapes are not what most may think of when they hear the term — the Historic American Landscapes Survey focuses on site planning.
One of Oklahoma’s most notable historic landscapes is the OSU campus in Stillwater.
Leider says some of his students were interested in doing a case study of the campus master plan of the 1920s under university President Henry G. Bennett. Leider says Bennett decided on Georgian architecture for the campus — many buildings from which still stand today.
“It was a cruciform plan,” Leider says about the arrangement of buildings. “So the center of the cross is the library, the most important building on campus. And the crossheads are green lawns that cut across the campus. And in the quadrants they grouped buildings.”
When his students started on the project, however, there was no complete documentation of this master plan. He says students had to piece together the final product based on aerial photographs, the existing campus master plan and other fragments of the 1920s plan.
Leider says that completed project is kept in the Library of Congress, and OSU officials even used it as a reference when creating the latest campus master plan.
“That’s one of the values of doing this kind of work,” Leider says. “It’s kind of reference material.”
Recognizing lost history
Some historic landscapes don’t even exist anymore. Leider says the 101 Ranch outside of Ponca City now has no more than a couple fallen buildings, abandoned when people realized the nearby Salt Fork River was shifting toward the property, eroding away the land as it moved.
But decades ago, the ranch sat on 110,000 acres and was the largest diversified farm and cattle ranch in the country in the early 1900s.
“I found an aerial photograph that was flown in the early 1930s, and using infrared photography we were able to find the footprints of the building,” Leider says. “We reconstructed this site plan.”
Other state historic landscapes include the Oklahoma City Civic Center, Will Rogers Park, the Edgemere Park Historic District and the city of Nichols Hills.