About the Claremore Museum of History
Claremore Museum of History is a history museum located in the former Will Rogers Library, inside of Lynn Riggs Park near downtown Claremore, Oklahoma. The Claremore Museum of History showcases multiple collections of artifacts from Claremore’s notable individuals, including Lynn Riggs, Andy Payne, Patti Page, Stuart Roosa, and Helen Robson Walton. The museum’s mission is to create engaging experiences that celebrate history, connect community, and inspire creativity.
In 2011, a group of local citizens identified a need for a museum that showed local history. Those citizens identified the old Will Rogers Library as the property that would be the best location for the museum. Judy Smith Eagleton was one of the citizens involved in picking out a location for the museum. She had been saving many pieces of Claremore history for most of her life and wanted to have a museum that could display historical items and tell about the history of Claremore. The Will Rogers Library building was used as administration offices for the fire department for years until the group of citizens approached the City of Claremore. They agreed on a long-term lease of the building that was signed in May 2011.
The Will Rogers Library Building was built by the W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) in 1936. W.S. Key was an administrator, and former co-owner of the Will Rogers Hotel, Morton Harrison, was a director. The dimensions of the building were 50’ by 60’ for an area of 3,000 sq. ft. The building was constructed of sandstone typical of many buildings of that era, such as the old Will Rogers Airport Building and the Armory Building.
In December 1965, the City Council allowed the Lynn Riggs Memorial Commission, headed by Paul Neely, to erect a 25’ by 25’ brick addition to the library building to house the Lynn Riggs Memorial memorabilia. The 525 sq. ft. addition was built totally by the donations, thanks to Paul Neely, John Denbo, Wayne Rowley, and the late Stan Thomas. The Will Rogers Library Board was not overly happy to be semi-responsible for a memorial catering to tourists, but the arrangement worked fine for ten years.
In 1975, the Lynn Riggs Memorial was moved to Thunderbird Hall at Claremore Junior College (now Rogers State University). It was thought that the museum would be more accessible to the public, but that was not necessarily the case. The Library Board was delighted to have the 252 sq. ft. building turned over to them as they needed space for expansion.
In 1995, a new Will Rogers Library was constructed, and the Library moved to their new facility. In the summer of 1995, the Lynn Riggs memorabilia was moved to the Library Building to be part of the Rogers County Hall of Fame Museum & the museum was placed under the control of the Rogers County Historical Society. That project failed due to a lack of funding, and a deal was struck with the City to allow the Lynn Riggs Memorial to re-occupy the original 525 sq. ft. that was built solely for that purpose with the donated funds. The original 3,000 sq. ft. was then remodeled by the City and used as offices for the Claremore Fire Department.
Leo Cundiff, nephew of Lynn Riggs, and his wife and family have refurbished the building and curated the Lynn Riggs artifacts. Lynn Riggs is the famous playwright from Claremore that wrote: “Green Grow the Lilacs” from whence evolved Rodgers & Hammerstein’s stage play OKLAHOMA! And the film OKLAHOMA! The centerpiece of the museum is the “surrey with the fringe on top,” which was used in the film OKLAHOMA!
Lynn Riggs Statue by Yon Sim Pak is located on the North side of the museum in Lynn Riggs Park. This sculpture of the Cherokee poet and playwright, Lynn Riggs, was created for the Lynn Riggs Memorial by Yon Sim Pak. In this sculpture depicting Lynn Riggs, he is holding a poetry book that is opened to the poem ‘Of Stone and Heart.’
Yom Sim Pak was born in Korea. Pak built a reputation as a portrait painter and came to the United States as a young adult. Each statue he created is constructed with skeletal structures of steel, covered with a white masonry cement, and polished with a special polymer to give them the look and feel of granite. Pak used a special blend of cement, which was patented by his friend Paul Kellert of Mannford, OK. This medium was known locally as Kellstone. The Rogers State University campus is known for Yom Sim Pak’s large-scale sculptures of three U.S. presidents: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.
Andy Payne Statueby John Free Jr. & John D. Free Sr. is located near the museum in Lynn Riggs Park. On May 25, 2018, Norma Jean Roupe (daughter of Andy Payne) donated the John Free Jr. and John D. Free Sr. sculpture of Andy Payne for Lynn Riggs Park to the Claremore Museum of History. The Bunion Derby exhibition opening and sculpture dedication took place on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at Lynn Riggs Park. This sculpture can be found at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK, along Route 66 at Andy Payne Park in Foyil, OK, and Lake Overholser at Route 66 Park in Oklahoma City. What makes this sculpture at the Claremore Museum of History unique is that John Free Jr. engraved Andy’s jersey from the International Trans-Continental Footrace of 1928 onto the statue. The original jersey from 1928 is on display inside the museum.
The Claremore Museum of History is a nonprofit 501C3 organization that relies solely on public support and contributions. The museum does not receive any state or federal funding. The museum is also a founding partner of the Claremore Museum Coalition, the Will Rogers Motion Picture Festival, and the Rogers County Farmers Market.