Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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February 10, 2014

Old hotel a special place for PV man

bporterfield@pvdemocrat.com — Imagine the surprise one longtime Pauls Valley resident got when he recently read about an honor of historic proportions for a place he fondly remembers from his childhood.

For many years Dr. Harry Millard served from the pulpit of a local church. Way before that he called Blackwell home in far northern Oklahoma near Ponca City.

What Millard learned by reading an article in the PV Democrat was the old Larkin Hotel in Blackwell, where his father once worked, was being added to the list of officially recognized historic places in Oklahoma.

“I thought wow,” Millard said with that eyebrow up look when asked about the honor for a hotel that still provides him with so many memories of his youth.

“I’m glad somebody recognized the value and uniqueness of the property.”

The news came from the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation office, which announced the Larkin Hotel is one of five new listings to the National Register of Historic Places.

The hotel, now in bad shape and in need of some tender loving care to survive as a building, is a place Millard knows all too well from his days of growing up in Blackwell.

Millard, now 79 years old, is retired after serving as the minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Pauls Valley from 1970 through 1999.

Graduating from high school in Blackwell back in 1953, he estimates Blackwell’s population was around 10,000 back in the 1940s and early ‘50s, as the hotel served as a kind of central hub, especially for weary travelers looking for a place to stop for the night.

The hotel has a special place in Millard’s heart because his father Frank worked there for 35 years.

“My father worked there as the night manager at the hotel,” Millard said. “He was the desk clerk, everything.”

He also remembers plenty of other things about the hotel where he and his family spent plenty of time.

“At one time it was a good looking hotel, especially in a town the size of Blackwell,” he said.

“It was a nice hotel with a restaurant right next door. It had a big ballroom with big chandeliers and nice leather chairs in the lobby. It was first class.

“It had a hand operated elevator and an old fashioned switchboard, the kind where you had to plug in the wires for the calls.

“My older sister took her first steps on the front desk of the hotel. I didn’t see that since it was before I came along.”

The Larkin Hotel was the first four-story building put up in Blackwell around 1923 or 1924. It also had the most modern convenience of hot and cold running water in each room, along with a telephone.

In recognition of the building’s significance and the precarious status due to it not being used, the Larkin Hotel was included on Oklahoma’s 2012 Most Endangered Properties list.

As for Millard, he also remembers how times were back then. Like many places of that era, hotels and even cities were completely segregated.

One thing common for him was to see rich, older women, traveling in very nice cars driven by African-American chauffeurs, stop for the night at the hotel.

“They would tell their chauffeur to sleep in the car,” Millard said.

“My father would later go out there and tell the chauffeur he had a place for them to sleep in the basement of the hotel without telling the woman or anyone else.”

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