In 1896 Charles Edwin Garee, his parents and younger sister were new to the town of Noble, Oklahoma Territory. Twenty-three year old Ed, as he was called, purchased a block of land and was ready to build a house down the street from his parents, then return to Missouri, marry and bring his new bride back. While in Noble, which is situated near the South Canadian river, it became apparent to Ed that safe passage across the South Canadian was a necessity. The river was difficult to cross due to the sand bars and the sometimes treacherous flow, which resulted in loss of life. At that time, travel across the river was often done by locals using a horse-powered, cable-drawn ferry. Ed was a wizard at mathematics developing his engineering knowledge on his own by reading books then designing and building bridges in Kansas and northern Oklahoma for the previous two years.i Knowing that his skill could help his new community and allow him to prosper, he postponed building a home and he and his new wife lived with Ed’s parents while he focused on designing and building a suspension bridge.
In Ed’s own words:
We existed along for a while, built one bridge in Logan Co. at a fair profit (before we moved) and finally got the big bridge at Noble done in August of 1898. It was a promotion affair. We had sold about enough shares in it to buy the material, and did most of the work ourselves, two men and four mules, with the help of a few sturdy fellows who had subscribed a share or two on the “work it out” basis. At the conclusion, we owned a controlling interest in the $7,000.00 structure for the near three years till the Canadian cut a new channel and left it proudly spanning a sand bar and a mudhole. Tolls from the bridge always paid some, but never as much as we had hoped. The town wanted us to turn the river back under the bridge, but we knew better, so they bought us out at a low price and tried it. After their failure, they went down river a quarter mile and built a beautiful leg bridge, using most of the material from the old one. As they were starting to paint it, came the largest rise of all time (1904) – two miles wide from the first of the Noble hill. It took every vestige of the new bridge and all of ours except the end that was anchored into the rocky hillside. That ended the bridge efforts for Noble. As the town workers removed all the usable material from the remaining part of the old one, a couple of my old friends brought me one of the 270 pound tower caps, and laid it in my front yard as a keepsake. It still lies there.
The red bridge was a suspension-type bridge that had a center span of 264 feet in length and two 400-feet approaches on the east side of the river.ii The approach must have included the road that led to the bridge since the total length of the bridge was 402 feet.
The dedication for the bridge was on August 11, 1898 with an estimated 4,000 in attendance (click the link to read the front page article). A few short weeks later, on September 26, 1989, Ed and Eva welcomed the first of their five daughters, Rubi. When Ed sold his shares of the bridge he cleared enough money to build a home, moving there just in time for their second daughter, Stella, to be born on September 11, 1900. Their other daughters (Elizabeth, Frances and Lucy) were also born in that house.
Ed had crossed another bridge in his life that contributed to the history of the county. The next one, for Ed, was using the money from the bridge to enlarge his nursery business that went on to leave a “living mark throughout the state.”iii
Charles Edwin Garee was my husband’s great grandfather (his maternal grandmother’s father).
Photos of the Bridge
I have three photos of the bridge, obtained from the Cleveland Historical Society, which show three different angles from two different days. After comparing the photos I surmise that two of the photos (views 1 and 2) were taken on the same day while the third has been identified as being taken on opening day, August 11, 1898. Since the trees are in full bloom in all three they were all likely taken during the summer. Views 1 and 2 show the buggies and horses crossing west on the bridge and clearly show pilings that were incomplete and the river was up and flowing so these were probably taken before the official opening. Also, in those photos there is a herd of cattle on the other side, not a likely activity for a dedication event that included a picnic and baseball. View 3, has been identified as being taken on August 11, the day of the dedication. In that photo the pilings are fully boxed in on the top and sides. While there does not seem to be a lot of activity in the background, two of the women on the bridge are carrying a basket, probably for the picnic described at the dedication. All of the pedestrians on the bridge are clearly posing for the photograph, something you would expect in a dedication photo. There are no shadows which suggests it was noon and I wonder if the photo was taken before the crowd arrived for the events of the day. Each of the photos depict different means of transportation our ancestors used during this era: foot, horse and buggy.
Fascinating Interview with Ed Garee in 1964
i Jo H. Hoskinson, “Garee To Get National Garden Council Citation,” The Norman Transcript 11 May 1966: 11
ii Bonnie Speer, Cleveland County: Pride of the Promised Land: An Illustrated History (Norman, Okla.: Traditional Publishers, 1988), 57
iii Elviretta Heon, “Young Garee Helped Build a Suspension Bridge,” The Norman Transcript 13 September 1964: 11
Additional Resources on C.E. Garee:
- K Bauman Tree House genealogy of C.E. Garee
- “Dedication of the Bridge,” Norman Transcript, 12 August 1898: 1
- Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture
- Noble Chamber of Commerce
- ODT Memorial Highways and Bridges
- Ed Garee’s Stories
- Garee Family – on My Family Tree House
- Costume – photo Ed and his sister Elda when they were children
This post is my submission to the 18th Edition of Smile For The Camera, which is “Travel.” Planes, trains and automobiles. Horses, mules, carts, and wagons. Bikes or on foot. Show us your family and how they traveled.
Read everyone’s submissions for this edition of ‘Smile’ at Shades of the Departed.