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The segment of State Route 51 between Tulsa and Stillwater is a particularly interesting segment of highway, as it contains examples of almost everything that can and has happened to highways in Oklahoma. There are stretches of the modern highway still following the original route, and stretches of old route that have been bypassed and remain as local roads roughly paralleling the modern highway. There are pieces that have been moved slightly enough that one can still see the old road alongside the modern route, and there is even a portion that has been inundated by one of Oklahoma's many artificial lakes. On top of everything else, the entire segment has been renumbered from its original designation, and part of the road was even shared with US Route 64; the end of this concurrence has been lost forever beneath the aforementioned lake. We hope you enjoy this much more interesting alternative to the Cimarron Turnpike.
Our journey begins on west 3rd St in Tulsa. Following 3rd St west as it leaves the original town, the road makes its way down a hill following a series of satisfying old style curves to almost reach the north bank of the Arkansas River. This is Tulsa's only example of a highway that enters or leaves town in this manner, a fairly common occurrence elsewhere in the state given the propensity to build towns on high ground. The road becomes Charles Page Blvd, which makes several turns as it makes its way toward Sand Springs, including a classic S-curve to cross the Sand Springs Railroad, originally built to carry commuters between Sand Springs and Tulsa. As one nears Sand Springs, the old MKT Railroad right-of-way, now a bike trail, appears north of the SSRR tracks, paralleling the Keystone Expressway which ultimately replaced this alignment of the highway. This entire segment of highway has maintained its original alignment even through the widenings that have occurred.
In Sand Springs, we will meet the modern highway, which rejoins the historic route at the crossing of the Arkansas River. Unfortunately, the old bridge appears to have been completely obliterated, but we are still reasonably close to the old route. Once the route turns west, it begins to parallel the old Frisco Railroad tracks, now operated by BNSF. After a long segment of old route that has been widened to a divided four lane, we reach the start of the realignment caused by the construction of Keystone Lake in the early 1960s. As one heads west, it is easy to see the old alignment continuing straight as the four lane angles south. This is a classic telltale of realignment, familiar to "old route" hunters. Turning to follow the old alignment is easy, and keeps one following the Frisco tracks. Unfortunately, the pavement on this segment of old route has not held up well since its bypassing. If you choose to drive this segment, we recommend a slow speed and caution. Eventually, the Frisco tracks begin their own realignment and cross the old highway, but the old pre-lake Frisco roadbed is still visible in the trees below the highway.
Just before Keystone Dam, we are compelled to leave the old route behind, as it disappears first into the dam and then below the lake. If one is traveling through, we are forced to follow the modern, post-lake realignment through (New) Mannford until the old route reappears at the modern junction with State Highway 48. The old route now inundated by Keystone lake wound around the base of several ridges, passing through the town of Keystone, which was the point where US 64 branched off to the north. There is a cut off segment of the old route still accessible where it passed up and over a ridge on its way to (old) Mannford, which offers more trademark first generation curves as it climbs and descends the hillsides. This isolated "time capsule" portion of the old route also shows evidence of the old route of the Frisco tracks, with the remains of an underpass at the east end and a trestle at the west. When the lake levels are low enough (below 720 feet or so), there is also a fairly impressive retaining wall and guardrail on the highway at the east end just before the road dips into the lake.
After crossing old State Route 48, we come to the junction of modern OK 51 and OK 48. At this point, the old route of 51 rejoins us coming south from Mannford. The old road skips from one side to the other of the modern route, passing behind houses and a church visible from the modern route. Just before a bridge on the modern alignment, the old alignment turns off to the south, crossing a bridge that is flooded when Keystone Lake's level is high.
This actually comprises an interesting example of multiple stage realignment. When the lake was first constructed, the aforementioned bridge prone to flooding was bypassed with the new bridge, elevated to be clear of the lake, that carries the modern alignment. However, at the next section line, a now bypassed section of road was constructed to take travelers back to the old alignment, which remained in use until the construction of the modern bypass route which avoids Silver City and Oilton. The old alignment of the highway here is in relatively good shape for the most part, with some asphalt patching of the original concrete surface making for a rough ride in places. The road is quite driveable, but we still recommend some care be taken, lest you damage your vehicle's suspension. This long segment of highway is paved in our favorite type of old paving, the Bates standard concrete with its characteristic meandering center crack and 50' spaced expansion joints.
As we join with modern SH 99 to go north through Oilton and cross the Cimarron River, we must spare a moment to regret the loss of yet another historic crossing. The old alignment that led to the bridge here is still in existence, but the bridge itself, alas, is long gone. Once we cross the river, the modern route rejoins the historic again as we continue toward Yale.
As we cross into Payne County, another slight realignment is visible where a curve has been altered. The old roadbed still exists, but is unfortunately inaccessible. Nevertheless, it gives yet another example in this segment of highway of the evolution of highway standards over 80+ years.
Just after crossing the old Santa Fe line in Yale, we again turn onto a lengthy section of Bates paved alignment. This stretch is similar to the portion through Silver City, in decent shape with some rough asphalt patching. Care is again advised, but the road is very much driveable at a reasonable speed. We are unsure as to why the original route jogged north one section from the direct route here, but we suspect it has to do with avoiding some substantial hills west of Yale.
The old route eventually angles south and takes us back to the modern alignment, which rejoins the historic route just after junctioning modern SH 108. From that point, the old route is identical to the modern route, following the section line into Stillwater.
Thus, our journey along old State Route 51 from Tulsa to Stillwater comes to a close, giving us many examples along the way of the various ways in which highways have evolved in Oklahoma, and plenty of opportunities for further research. To give a final piece of food for thought, we would like to give some information about the renumbering mentioned in the introduction. This entire stretch of highway was originally designated as part of State Route 1 in 1925, when the first system of numbered highways in Oklahoma was established. (For more information, visit the Original Routes page.) From 1925 until 1930, this stretch of road, including all the bypassed segments, was part of the major northern crossing route of Oklahoma. This is yet another fact which makes this particular segment of highway so interesting to those concerned with history.
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Base Map Data Copyright DeLorme USA, http://www.delorme.com
State Highway Shields created by Ken Parker of Oklahoma Bridge & Highways Group.