Whitaker Children's Home
|Whitaker Children's Home|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
|Peak Patient Population||>500|
Founded in 1897 by area post trader Mr. W. T. Whitaker & his wife at their home on 40 acres of land located (at that time) "one mile south-east of Pryor Creek, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory". The home was a modern two story stone building, with wrapping porch.
After the Civil War, the large influx of non-Indians into the Cherokee Nation created yet another problem. Frontier life being very harsh and primitive, as well as being without adequate medical care, cost many lives of these families. While there were facilities maintained by the Cherokee Nation for the care of the Indian orphans, the question arose as to what to do with the white children who survived their parents. One by one, many were taken into the household of the benevolently minded W. T. Whitaker family (who had 11 children of their own). As their "family" grew, so did the needs. This was the founding of Whitaker Children's Home.
There was also a lack of schools in Indian Territory for non-Indian children. The Whitakers provided for this with teachers, classrooms and training facilities. Mr. Whitaker had previously served in the military, and the home was run in military fashion. Mr. Whitaker believed in the saying "A working child is a happy child." The fate of the children living in Whitaker in the early 1900's was often one of indentured servitude. A lucky few were reunited with their families.
When the Cherokee Orphan Home burned in 1903, Mr. Whitaker then opened the doors of his home to the homeless Cherokees of the territory. Although crowded conditions prevailed, the children, with Federal aid ($10,000), were cared for by donations & a working farm until statehood came and the home was converted to the Whitaker State Orphan Home (1908) in 1908.
Under state ownership, the Whitaker Home grew to include 590 acres total, and thirty buildings in 1911. The main campus consisted of 40-acres, a 320-acre farm, 14 buildings housing 287 children and 25 staff. By 1943 the number of children approached 350. In 1950 a modern "milking barn", accommodating 120 Holstien cows. In 1954 a swimming pool was constructed. There was a building where the older girls learned to sew by making not only their own clothes, but the children who were too young had other assigned duties. The boys did farm and animal work.
For 30 years, the State Orphanage produced boxing & basketball programs. The Orphanage was re-named the Oklahoma State Home (1910), and then again re-named East Oklahoma Home for White Children (1919). As politics and social climate changed, it was re-named again in 1923 as whitaker State Orphan Home.
In 1921 a power house is built to power the campus' electricity. In 1932, two new brick cottages were built to replace some old wood frame cottages. . The Whitaker institution had generally operated on a cottage rather than a dormitory plan with each unit, housing fifteen to twenty children, having its own kitchen and dining room, supplied by a central commissary. But in 1936, the Works Progress Administration built a new dining hall with three cold storage units, an ice plant, and a bakery. Outlying buildings included a state-of-the-art dairy built in 1933, a sale barn dating from 1942, and a number of auxiliary buildings, as well as employee residences. Buildings added to the plant in 1940 were the laundry, and vocational building which served as the carpentry and upholstery shop.
In 1948 a new period of expansion and renovation began with the support of the citizens of Pryor and a state bond issue of $1.25 million. The result was fourteen new buildings and a swimming pool. These additions in the early 1950's included the administration building (now a National Guard Armory), and the clinic built in 1952. Several new cottages were added: McCarty Hall, Fern, Birch, Pine, Spruce--all built in 1951; Cedar, Poplar, Walnut--all built in 1952 and Comer, built in 1953. In 1960 a new gymnasium replaced the old facility.
Child population grew to more than 500 before the 1960s, when it began taking in the state's troubled juveniles. The home in 1962 switched roles from the care of orphaned children to juvenile-delinquent supervision. A major renovation in 1967 was the expansion of Whitaker Hall.
The 1983 auction papers state for sale "640 acres of land which includes the 40-acre campus, 50-75 buildings, a meat packing plant, and 556 acres of farming land." And in 1983 the property was transferred to the Oklahoma Military Department, who to this day rents the property to "Thunderbird Military Youth Academy", a modern reform school for "troubled" teen boys.
There is a small cemetery that is maintained for the children who died while residing at the home. The original tombstone has been maintained, but is weather worn. The people of Pryor copied the entries and have a new stone located nearby.
The cemetery is managed by the Oklahoma Military Department.