Railroad Named After Man Of Circus Fame

You wouldn't think this little town in eastern Jefferson County, Oklahoma would have much of a connection to circuses, but it had just about the biggest connection there is...it's name. John Ringling, one of the famed Ringling brothers, was more interested in railroads than high wire acts and in 1913 was sold on the idea of building a railroad from nearby Ardmore to the West Coast. You can still see the old track bed in parts of Jefferson and Carter counties. Starting in Ardmore, it wound through the rich oil fields of Healdton then extended another ten miles to the west-- to a tiny town that didn't yet have a name. Mr. Ringling once owned the land where the town now sits, which was to be used as a winter storage ground for his circus animals but the rough winter climate proved to be to much for the idea. As for the railroad, folks were calling it the 'Oklahoma, New Mexico and Pacific.'

The tracks never made it anywhere near the ocean. In fact, it didn't even make it to New Mexico. The end of the line and the end of John Ringling's dreams stopped a mere 26 miles west of Ardmore to the new town. But the folks who lived here still had dreams and though John Ringling didn't take the railroad to the west coast, he brought it to them and that was enough for them to bestow his name on the town. With the arrival of the railroad came business and people in hopes of building a major hub for southern Oklahoma. Many families (if not most) from Cornish located 1 mile south of Ringling packed up their belongings and moved to the new town. One local resident remembered as a little girl, her family moving their entire house to Ringling by a large, flat wagon and team of horses. By 1915, a new water tower was erected to serve the growing community. (Today, it's the oldest water tower in the state still in use.)

By November 1942, the passenger train left Ringling for Ardmore twice daily with departures at 10:50 AM and 11:10 AM. What many residents called the 'Ringling Railroad' flourished for a while and then vanished. The hopes of Ringling becoming a large city never materialized and soon people started leaving. In recent years, plans had been created to turn the old depot into a library or a community center; but has since been razed due to it's severe dilapidation. The Santa Fe train (by this time carrying freight only) made it's final trip from Ringling to Ardmore on December 21, 1979.

Today, Ringling has a population of 1,250 and is a thriving agriculture area with businesses located in two main districts, one on US Highway 70 and the other on historic Main Street.

Richard Wooley

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