ARDMORE — The limestone slabs — cut by hand from the southern Oklahoma earth and stacked skyward — tower over the glimmering blue waters of Lake Murray.
Tucker Tower, a 78-year-old Oklahoma landmark, was going to be a governor's retreat when the Works Project Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps laborers finished construction in 1935. Depression-era workers cut the slabs from the limestone in the lake area starting in 1933.
But the structure never was used by the state's governors.
Instead, the tower became a favorite place for visitors to climb for a sweeping view of the water.
Flooring was added in 1956, but no other work was done until two years ago.
Now, a $3 million, 4,000-square-foot addition — The Nature Center at Tucker Tower — and a $500,000 makeover to the structure have been completed. The work started in July 2011 and was done in March, said park naturalist Mark Teders with the state Tourism and Recreation Department.
Teders, 58, has lived and worked at Tucker Tower for 35 years. Since the tower reopened in March, after being closed to the public two years, there have been 25,000 visitors. That breaks down to about 400 people on the weekends and several hundred throughout the week, he said.
Labor Day will be the tower's last day of summer hours and programs, he said.
“We fixed the whole tower up,” Teders said. “It's just an iconic structure for southern Oklahoma. It gives a real sense of place when you are here.”
The new nature center has exhibits of American Indian artifacts and local wildlife and a classroom for daily lectures. The center's theme is water, and how water affects daily life, but there also is an emphasis on the local geology with rock displays.
The renovation and construction was completed with funds raised by the state park's oil and gas trust fund, Teders said.
Admission is by donation.
“If you have a $1 or if you have $20 we will take that,” Teders said.
The new nature center and the tower restoration are important to the history of southern Oklahoma and the Arbuckle Mountain range, said Neil Suneson, a geologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the University of Oklahoma.
Suneson, 63, said the geology of the Lake Murray area is fascinating to him because of the steep, rocky terrain.
“The whole geologic history of Lake Murray appeals to me,” Suneson said.
The nature center also displays the “human history” of the construction of the tower and those who built it in the 1930s, he said.