The Edmond Sun

March 1, 2014

ON TRAVEL: T.G.&Y. exhibit recaptures Oklahoma history

Elaine Warner
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — When I was a young mother, T.G.&Y. was my go-to-for-everything (except groceries) stop. More upscale than the old-fashioned dime store, the prices were still low but the selection was better. They carried a great line of kids clothes — Buster Brown — with mix-and-match cotton shirts, shorts, pants and socks.  Only one mom in the neighborhood had a car — a Pepto-Bismal pink and white DeSoto. This was before seat belts so it was nothing for three moms and five kids to squeeze in and head for the TG&Y at 50th and Meridian. Those were the days.

By the '70s, when we moved to Edmond, the chain had gone through several buy-outs. There was a big T.G.&Y. in Broadway Plaza, but the quality of both the store and the inventory had definitely declined. And then it was gone, but not forgotten.

For a bit of nostalgia, visit the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher where, until April 12, the special exhibition T.G.&Y.: An Original Oklahoma Icon is on display. The Kingfisher connection is with the Y. — for one of the founders, Raymond A. Young. Before joining with R.E. Tomlinson and Les Gosselin, Young owned Young’s 5 ¢ to $1.00 Store. which opened on Kingfisher’s Main Street in 1927. He eventually opened other branches around Oklahoma.  

Gosselin and Tomlinson also owned their own stores. The men decided to cut out the middlemen and establish their own warehouse. By 1936, the three began opening stores for a new operation, T.G.&Y.  By 1949, they had expanded into other states. By 1960, there were stores in 12 states and sales exceeded $42 million.  

With the retirement of T.G.&Y. president, R.A. Young in 1970, the company lost a steady hand at the wheel. It had maintained quality through the buyouts but now its guiding light was gone. In 1986 McCrory Corporation bought the chain and the downhill slide was rapid. The last T.G.&Y. store closed in 2002.

This exhibit is a “must see” for anyone who ever worked for T.G.&Y. It’s heavy on company history and corporate communications. Years of newsletters are on display and the day I was there a former store manager was carefully going through them, looking for pictures of friends from his working days.

Several display cases feature T.G.&Y. branded products, toys, notions and other items loaned for the exhibit by former employees. Included are a T.G.&Y. lawnmower and television. One of the black-and-white TVs plays news footage from the T.G.&Y. years.

Plan a couple of hours for a visit. Depending on the depth of your interest in the business details in the T.G.&Y. display, you can spend a short time or take hours poring over the papers. Just be sure you save time to see the rest of the museum.

Displays feature exhibits on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indians, Jesse Chisholm and the Trail named for him, the 1889 Land Run and early lawmen and outlaws and involvement of county residents in military actions from the Civil War, Spanish-American War and both World Wars.  

The east wing of the building showcases early Kingfisher businesses. Like walking down Main Street in a small, turn-of-the-century town, you'll pass the post office, pharmacy, general store and land office. Other exhibits feature sewing machines, “modern” home appliances, newspapers and include a horse-drawn hearse and a 1936 Ford fire engine. All sorts of farm equipment and tools are displayed in the west wing.

In back of the building is a small picnic area and a pioneer village. Buildings here have been moved from other sites but are authentic and provide a peek at an earlier time. One of the two 1890 log cabins belonged to Adaline Dalton. She was the mother of 13 children, four of whom were notorious outlaws — the Dalton Gang.

The Harmony Methodist Church began as a non-denominational Sunday school, which was organized immediately after the April 22 Run of 1889. The church dates to 1890 but this building is actually a bit younger. First services were held in the homes of members until this building came into use in the first years of the 20th century. The pews were acquired in 1911 when the Methodist church in Dover closed. It is reported that Carrie Nation once spoke from this pulpit.

The school was organized in 1894 as Pleasant Valley but the building was built on the property of the Gant family and, subsequently named after them. Built at a cost of $100, the school was heated with a wood-burning stove.  Patrons delivered the wood to the school and the first teacher, Miss Marsh, paid someone a nickel a day out of her $25 per month salary to light the fire in the morning. The school closed at the end of the 1939-40 school year.

The little white bank building only served as Kingfisher Bank for two years. The business started in a tent on the day of the Run with this white frame structure being completed quickly after the opening. It was replaced by a brick building in 1891.  

The furnishings in the bank came from several banks in Okeene. If you watch the 1971 movie Dillinger, you’ll see them in several scenes.

I didn’t take time to tour the Gov. Seay Mansion across the street but that just gives me a reason to go back to Kingfisher. The Chisholm Trail Museum and Gov. Seay Mansion are open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m until 5 p.m. (closed major holidays). Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. The museum is at 605 Zellers Ave., about an hour drive from Edmond.