An ultra-rich entrepreneur marries a young woman with the personality to become the center of social life in their city. They build a state-of-the-art, 20-room mansion outside the city. She hosts parties for the elite. He continues to grow his wealth by being one of the first to build downtown.
This is the story of Henry and Anna Ione Overholser in turn-of-the-20th-century Oklahoma City.
After making his fortune in Kansas, Colorado and Wisconsin, Henry Overholser heard about another business prospect.
“Mr. Overholser saw a one-of-a-kind business opportunity and packed seven to 10 railroad cars full of building supplies and lumber, as well as some pre-fab buildings, after learning of the opening of the Unassigned Lands and Land Run in Indian Territory,” says Lisa Escalon, museum coordinator of the Overholser Mansion.
The Ohio-born Overholser arrived in what would become Oklahoma just days after the Land Run of 1889. Almost immediately, he erected six business buildings along Grand (now Sheridan) Avenue and thus began his influential drive to build a city.
Overholser could be referred to as the Father of Oklahoma City due to his involvement in virtually every part of developing the city after his arrival, Escalon says. According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, he built an opera house and a theater and was instrumental in starting the State Fair. He organized a railroad and promoted a streetcar line. He was elected to the Oklahoma County Commission after running unsuccessfully for mayor twice.
Overholser found the queen of his castle in Anna Ione Murphy shortly after moving to Oklahoma Territory. They married in October 1889. The couple had one daughter, Henry Ione, born in 1905.
[pullquote]The mansion is one of only a few house museums in the country containing 90 percent of the original furnishings.[/pullquote]Once Overholser had a family, he needed a permanent home in this rough new land. Overholser began work on his mansion before statehood in 1907 and photos from the time show a giant house with nothing around. The Overholsers had the latest in luxuries: radiator heat, indoor plumbing, electricity, hand-stenciled and painted canvas covered walls, imported wood and an early intercom system.
This mansion on the prairie became the center of Oklahoma City social life as Anna Overholser hosted parties and charitable events and founded women’s clubs.
Today, the Overholser Mansion is a peephole back in time. The mansion was sold to the Oklahoma Historical Society by the Overholsers’ son-in-law in 1972 after their daughter died with no children. The mansion is one of only a few house museums in the country containing 90 percent of the original furnishing, where rooms can be seen the way the Overholsers saw them more than 100 years ago, Escalon says.
“It becomes apparent after glancing at some photos taken in 1915 of the downstairs rooms that little has been changed since the house was built in 1903,” she says.
Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the personal lives of the Overholsers during the monthly Mysteries of the Mansion tours. View such items as Anna Overholser’s scrapbook, Henry Ione’s baby book and clothing still hanging in closets. Participants also get the opportunity to walk through some of the rooms that are off limits during daily tours.
The mansion holds many memories from this prominent family that helped shape early Oklahoma City.