The magnificence of the historically famous downtown areas of Guthrie can be traced back to the vision and efforts of a Frenchman, Joseph Foucart. Foucart was an architect, the first of his profession to locate in Guthrie, when he came to the Territorial Capital in the fall of 1889. He saw before him a clean canvas upon which he could “paint” with architectural structures that would shape and color the image of Guthrie for many decades and have a lasting impact on this community, its residence and visitors to this day.
Born in Arlon, Belgium, with lineage tracing back to a prominent French family, he was one of five children and the only one of the family to immigrate to this country. Foucart studied engineering and architecture and worked in the railroad and mining fields early in his career before focusing on his successful architectural career and supervising the construction of castles, hotels and civic buildings throughout central Europe and Paris, France.
Foucart saw an opportunity with the opening of the Oklahoma Territory and came to Guthrie a few months after “The Land Run” of 1889 and immediately began designing and supervising the construction of buildings in the capital city. His architectural training is easily identified in the image and definition of buildings throughout Guthrie, but his engineering training resulted in buildings that were practically indestructible, a hidden fact that became well known when some of these buildings were demolished in later years.
Joseph Foucart’s talents are reflected in many significant structures in Guthrie. The Gray Brothers Building, still standing on Division and Oklahoma, served as the Bank of the Indian Territory while the MCKennon Opera Building served as the first territorial house and senate meeting location and the home of Oklahoma’s first daily newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily State Capital. The E.T. Patton building built at Division and Harrison, has since been razed, but was the site of offices for the Territorial Governor, Territorial Marshal and other territorial officials. Foucart’s design and building skills resulted in the Capitol National Bank building, located directly across from the land office, making it the “busiest corners” in the early territory. In 1891 Foucart designed and built three of the early brick buildings in Guthrie at Harrison and Division; The Tontz, Hirshi, and Waite buildings, with part of these buildings presently being occupied by the Guthrie News Leader. Another Foucart classic was the site of Frank Greer’s newspaper and printing business on the corner of Harrison and 2nd St. It is now the State Capital Publishing Museum.
In addition to commercial builds, Foucart’s talents were also in demand for residential design and construction. The Heilman house at Cleveland and Ash and the Miller home on East Warner Street are two such treasures and were two of the first brick homes in Oklahoma Territory.
Joseph Foucart’s successes were noticed throughout the area and resulted in buildings in Stillwater, most significantly the Williams Hall Library at what is now Oklahoma State University and the Northwestern Normal School at Alva, known as the “Castle on the Plains”. His work also extended to the eastern part of the state with the design and construction of the Odd Fellow Lodge (IOOF) in Checotah, Oklahoma.
Joseph Foucart died in 1917 and is buried in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but left a legacy that is with us today in the skyline of Guthrie.
A memorial park to honor Mr. Foucart is planned in the heart of downtown Guthrie. A bust of Mr. Foucart, eventually to be place at this park, will be unveiled during a ceremony at 4:00 PM on Friday, April 18th on the steps of the Carnegie Library and Oklahoma Territorial Museum. The Library is located at 406 E. Oklahoma Ave. There will be a short ceremony honoring the great contributions Joseph Foucart has made to Guthrie and Oklahoma, followed by a tour of the latest exhibit at the Museum titled “And the Wrecking Ball Bounced!”. The public is invited to this unveiling. Light refreshment will be served following the ceremony.
Nathan Turner, museum director, reminds all interested persons that the Museum is open FREE to the public the entire day, Saturday, April 19in honor of the Land Run of 1889. Steve Gentling, ‘89er Chairman, says “Come to the dedication ceremony on Friday and stay to Saturday. Friday you can watch the kids “big wheel” races, enjoy over 150 classic cars and cycles parked on Oklahoma Ave, and click your heels at the Street Dance. Make downtown Guthrie for a Saturday destination. Enjoy the Museum, take in the ‘89er Day Parade, hit the carnival, enjoy the food and craft vendors, watch the bronc and bulls at the rodeo and finish it off with a trip around the dance floor at a good old fashioned barn dance at the American Legion building that night. Wow, what a great way to spend a Friday and Saturday in Guthrie, America !”