The town of Miami began with a dream, a partnership, and a Congressional act. Wayland C. Lykins, the son of a missionary to the Peoria Indians, came to the area to raise cattle in the 1890s. He had a dream of a cattle empire with his town, Miami, as the hub. Continuing to follow his dreams, Lykins went to Washington D.C. for congressional approval of a town site. It was only after Thomas Richardville, scholarly chief of the Miami Tribe and friend of Lykins spoke to U.S. Indian Commissioner that the township patent was approved. The Ottawa Tribe sold 588 acres for the town and the first lot was sold to Dr. W.I. McWilliams in June of 1891. Dr. McWilliams received the first deed to a white man in Indian Territory, and the town was named Miami, “My-Am-Uh”, after the Miami Indians.
Miami grew from a population of 300 that first year to around 2,500 by 1902. Many factors contributed to its growth. The rolling prairie was good pastureland for cattle, and the area was becoming widely known for its shipments of hay. The first train arrived in Miami on September 12, 1896, the Kansas City-Ft. Scott-Memphis Rail Road, which connected Miami to Baxter Springs, Kansas. This line continued until 1900 when it was extended south to Afton to meet the Frisco mainline.
Lead and zinc were first discovered in the area in 1905. Mining operations were running by 1907 in the “Commerce field,” and had extended to the “Picher and Cardin fields” in 1915–1916. Miami became the gateway to these mining fields and therefore mining became a dominant part of Miami’s growth. The need for training of mining engineers resulted in the School of Mines opening in 1919. This school evolved into present day Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
By 1909, Miami had 9 miles of cement walks, one 3-story brick hotel, three bakeries, three newspapers, a modern waterworks system, a modernly equipped fire department, electric lights, big ice plant, 13 churches, two railroads, three banks, planning mills, lumber yards, and splendid public schools. With the burst of mining the prairie town that Lykins envisioned was becoming a booming trade center.
A vaudeville theatre and movie palace “Coleman Theatre Beautiful” opened to a full house of 1600 on April 18, 1929. Built by George L. Coleman, Sr., local mining magnate, the opulent structure with Spanish Mission Revival exterior and Louis XV interior design dazzled the audiences. From that day forward the Coleman has never been “dark”.
The Pensacola Dam was constructed from 1938–1940 across nearby Grand (or Neosho) River at the Grand River Valley. This dam provided both electricity to the area and jobs for many during the hard times of the Great Depression. The damming of the river created Grand Lake ‘O the Cherokees, providing recreational activities for people living in the area and visiting tourists.
Manufacturing, on a large scale, came to Miami in 1946, with the opening of B.F. Goodrich Miami Plant. Soon to follow were Blue Manufacturing Company opening in 1953 and U.S. Metal Container moving to Miami in 1955. Many manufacturers still call Miami home today.
Located in the northern part of town is a G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Cemetery, which includes Civil War era gravesites.
Historic Route 66 is still Main Street here in Miami, and many of the buildings in downtown are originals from the early 1900s.
Nine Native American tribes are located in or near Miami; Quapaw Tribe, Wyandotte Tribe, Modoc Tribe, Miami Tribe, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, Ottawa Tribe, Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Peoria Tribe, and Shawnee Tribe. The Dobson Museum, located near downtown, displays local Native American artifacts and has over 5,000 historical items.
Tourism has become a huge part of the growth of this community. Indian Gaming Facilities and a new Motorcycle Museum on Historic Route 66 have contributed to the increase in traffic to Miami. As spring rolls around each year, spoonbill fishermen arrive in town early to find a spot along the banks of the Neosho River. Most morning, hundreds are lined up attempting the perfect snag of a spoonbill or sometimes called paddlefish.
Today Miami is a thriving community with a proud past. With roots from before statehood Miami has seen many changes. Agriculture, trade, mining, education, and industry all played a role in Miami’s past progress. We look forward to experiencing Miami’s future growth and development.