Monday, October 28, 2013

Returning to the Crowell House in Alva

It was late afternoon when I arrived that Tuesday in October.  Aside from a couple of workmen outside, the house was the only one at home.

In a previous post, I wrote that my grandmother bought this house in the late 1960s, then sold it several years later.  It changed hands several times and is now a bed and breakfast called The Vintage Inn.  I made the trip to Oklahoma, in part, to stay there once again.

Perhaps a little more house-history is in order now.  The home at 801 Flynn Street, Alva, Oklahoma, was built in 1906 by the influential local businessman George Washington Crowell.  

On pages 1509-1510 of Volume IV of A Standard History of Oklahoma (1916) Joseph B. Thoburn, we find a little background on the man who was the original owner of the house.  

"George W. Crowell. Among those men of dynamic force and fine constructive powers who have been foremost in the furtherance of the civic and industrial development and progress of Woods County, Oklahoma, a place of exceptional prominence and distinction must be accorded to the sterling citizen and representative man of affairs whose name initiates this paragraph. Mr. Crowell is vice president of the First National Bank of Alva, the county seat of Woods County, was the founder of the firm of Crowell Brothers, engaged in dealing in lumber and grain; and his extraneous capitalistic interests are likewise of broad scope and importance, as shown by his being president of the Panhandle Grain Company of Amarillo, Texas, and president and treasurer of the Centennial Coal Company of Denver, Colorado."
Crowell Bros. Grain Elevator
(photo found in public documents at
George Crowell was born in North Carolina in 1862, and moved to Kansas in 1879.  He and his brother David owned a lumber company.  The book continues: 

"The firm now maintains a series of well equipped lumber yards, at different points in Kansas and Oklahoma and the business has expanded to large and substantial proportions under the careful, progressive and honorable management of the enterprising proprietors.

"In 1893 Mr. Crowell became one of the large concourse of prospective settlers who participated in the run into the famous Cherokee Strip, or Outlet, of Oklahoma, at the time it was thrown open to settlement. He established his residence at Alva, the present thriving little metropolis and judicial center of Woods County, and the governor of Oklahoma Territory appointed him chairman of the first board of county commissioners of the new county. 

"Mr. Crowell thus played an important part in formulating the system of government for the county and also was influential in the progressive movements made by the board for the furtherance of the best interests of the ambitious county and its people. Mr. Crowell has otherwise given effective service in behalf of the public, and especially through his several years incumbency of the office of member of the city council of Alva.... In all things he is to be designated as a loyal, progressive and public-spirited citizen as well as a straightforward, alert and substantial business man…."

A page on describes the architectural style of the house as "...evocative of the Prairie Style as found in Oklahoma. It has a steeply pitched hip roof, covered with ceramic tile roofing. The center entry bay is topped by a dormer capped with a unique double-hipped roof. Below the dormer is a set of five windows, three in the center are closely spaced, flanked at a short distance with another on each side. Each of these windows has a transom. A stone beltcourse is set into the wall at the height of the second-story windows. The main entry porch features piers that extend past the roofline of the porch; these piers were probably originally terminated by urns. This was a common style found in other Prairie-style homes of the 1920s, a style first popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. The porch piers are flanked by columns, and the style of the port is mirrored in the style of the east-facing sunroom. A large porch, open other than over the entry, provides a strong visual base for this large home."

The Okie Legacy website describes the origins of the house:  "As to George's big house on 8th & Flynn Ave., in Alva, Oklahoma, legend has it Crowell wanted to build the biggest house in Alva so he constructed the house in 1906 and succeeded for about a year, until another man built a slightly larger house on the west side of town.  

"Crowell brought in an Italian artist, who was charged with scrolling in gold leaf on the walls and ceilings on the first floor and up the stairs. He also carved rail posts and the glass doors leading into the house. All the wood and the tile roofing for the house was shipped in from Kansas."

Photo postcard of the "Geo. Crowell Residence, Alva, Okla."

George Crowell's first wife died in 1911, but A Standard History of Oklahoma notes: "On the 1st of October, 1913, Mr. Crowell contracted a second marriage, by his union with Mae Wilcox, who was born at Neosho, Missouri, on the 6th of April, 1884, and who is the popular chatelaine of their pleasant and hospitable home in Alva."

Pleasant and hospitable.

I went up the steps to the front door, noting that the leaded glass windows were still in place.  They were beautiful from the outside...

And even more so from the inside, with their little rainbows of light.

If you were going to build a three-story house like the one at 801 Flynn, it would help to be in the lumber business.  This slightly smudged photograph of my grandmother's from about 1970 shows the entry hall and staircase, crafted of solid oak, as I remembered it.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I walked slowly around the entry hall, camera at the ready.

Even though the paint colors are different and a vintage tin ceiling has been added, the wooden details are still there and in excellent condition.

The house was quiet.  I walked up the stairs and, when I got to the top, rested my hand on the oak.

"Hello, my old friend," I said.  The house spent the next couple of days responding.

To be continued....

Information on The Vintage Inn may be found here:

The Okie Legacy website story on the Crowell House is here:

And a story about George Crowell's family is here:

The Flickr site with the description and a photo of the Crowell mansion (among many interesting pictures of Oklahoma landmarks) is here: 

A Standard History of Oklahoma, Vol. IV, is available online:  

The website for Ponca City, Oklahoma, tells more about the Cherokee Strip land run of 1893:

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

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