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FOSS, OKLAHOMA

by

Gary B. Speck

 

From Oklahoma City to Texola, Interstate 40 (I-40) bisects the western half of the Sooner State and its hundreds of tiny towns rolling off across the endless prairie.  Before the non-stop concrete ribbon full of bustling cars and trucks was built, a narrower road stitched together scores of tiny traveler stops, quiet agricultural towns, and bustling cities.  Today, all you can see from I-40 is the legendary Oklahoma flatness, scattered clumps of trees and rooftops, and tall pole signs lighting up the night with neon advertising for ARCO, Comfort Inn, and Denny’s. 

 

It was hard to resist exiting the Interstate to cruise the still drivable portions of Route 66 -- The Mother Road.  We left the throng of modern travelers and entered the world of Green Globe Gasoline, Do-Drop Inn, and Mom’s Cafe signs painted on the sides of now crumbling buildings.  Dreams of driving down the dusty main streets of dying agricultural towns and dead roadside travel stops drew the Speck family like storm surf draws coinshooters to the beach.

 

It was at EXIT 53, about 13 miles west of Clinton (US 183) that we entered the Mother Road’s world at a map dot called FOSS.  This town was named after J.M. Foss of nearby Cordell.

 

On the southwest corner of old US 66 and SH 44, just north of the freeway, an old combination gas station/bar molders in the deep shade of a huge cottonwood tree that is growing out of the sidewalk.  Kobel’s Place died about the time that US 66 was abandoned in favor of I-40.  Foss itself is just to the north, on the other side of Turkey Creek. 

 

Downtown Foss looks nothing at all like the photographs in John W. Morris’ book Ghost Towns of Oklahoma.  In its prime, the town had dozens of businesses spread a block north and south on Adams Avenue, and another block east and west on Main Street.  A 1959 photo shows a large two-story building on the southwest corner of Main and Adams, and on the northwest corner, a line of single-story false fronts.  In 1975, the stores were vacant, and weeds had overtaken the sidewalks and parking strips.  In 1997, the entire downtown was vacant, except for a few recently installed mobile homes, and a classic two-story, white clapboard home that once was one of the town’s several hotels.  A couple other random older homes still remain in the four-square block area.

 

Foundation outlines of the old buildings still remain visible, along with weedy sidewalks eerily lining the town’s vacant blocks.  West of Broadway, which is today’s SH 44, a large, beige two-story residence that was also a former hotel, sits opposite the red-rock “First Baptist Church”.  An unmarked white church also remains, along with a saggy-roofed block building housing Foss’ fire engine.  Along SH 44, an automobile sales lot, a brick water tank, and an aluminum-sided barn still look used.

 

Foss began as a railroad station and post office in 1900.  Settlers had established a small town along Turkey Creek and called it MAHARG, which was “GRAHAM” reversed.  They wanted Graham, but the Post Office Department wouldn’t allow it since there already was a Graham in Oklahoma.  In 1902 a flood wiped out the low-lying town, so the folks packed up and moved up hill to the post office and station at Foss. 

 

By 1905 nearly 1000 people lived here, packing the four-block square business district.  The town had three cotton gins, and two banks, which was very unusual at that time.  In the 1920s the town began to decline, but in 1930, 524 people still called Foss home.  The Depression and Dust Bowl hit Foss hard, and the town rapidly depopulated. During the 1950s and 1960s there was some re-growth, but when a nearby Air Force installation closed, Foss folded.  The bank hung on until September 1977.

 

In 1970 only 150 folks remained, a figure nearly unchanged in the 1990 census, which found 148 people.  Today, even that number appears way to high.

 

Foss is one of those places that is deceiving.  Unless you see photos and maps of downtown, it is difficult to imagine what Foss looked like at its peak.  But today, that imagination is all we have to use when viewing this one-time boomtown.

           

This little Oklahoma ghost demonstrates what is available to be seen by an avid ghost town chaser in the Sooner State. Granted, Oklahoma is one of the newest states, and as such would seem to have fewer ghost towns.

 

Not true. 

Like all of the other states in the Midwest, Oklahoma has a rich heritage of ghost towns.  The boom and bust cycles have left hundreds, if not thousands of towns, and sites of towns:  enough to entice most followers of Ghost Town USA for a long time!

This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for April 2001.

This is one of the towns featured in my newest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.

 

LOCATION:

·        Latitude:  35.4544942 / 35° 27’ 16” N

·        Longitude: -99.1698099 / 99° 10’ 11” W

 

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FIRST POSTED:  April 01, 2001

LAST UPDATED: February 02, 2010

 

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