Nestled in a corner of Murray State College campus in Tishomingo, Oklahoma is an often overlooked historical treasure.
Built in the early 20th century to provide housing for a growing student body, Bessie Poe Hall is a prominent landmark. Its historic and architectural beauty led to it becoming one of the six sites within Johnston County listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Others include the Chickasaw Nation Capitol, Tishomingo Armory, Tishomingo City Hall, Wapanucka Academy and the Chickasaw White House, located in Emet, Oklahoma.
Bessie Poe Hall is one of two dormitories constructed to house the students of Murray State College, which was then called Murray State School of Agriculture. The dormitories were built with cooperation among federal, tribal, state and local agencies.
Bessie Poe Hall serves as a reminder of these continued partnerships.
With curriculum based on agriculture, early enrollment of Murray State College consisted mainly of Chickasaw and Choctaw boys from southern Oklahoma. The demand for housing was enormous. For more than 10 years, students lived in boarding houses or private rooms for rent.
Providing adequate living arrangements for the fledgling school took an act of Congress. The bill authorized $50,000—nearly $600,000 in today’s dollars—to be credited to the Chickasaw Nation for the purpose of building the dormitories to house Native Americans. A condition of building the dormitories included transferring ownership of the property to the Chickasaw Nation from the city of Tishomingo.
Intended for use by Native Americans, Bessie Poe Hall was designed to house 130 students. Once completed, non-Natives were welcomed into the facility. The property was purchased from the Chickasaw Nation by the state of Oklahoma decades later.
According to documentation prepared by the Oklahoma Preservation Office, Bessie Poe Hall is also architecturally important. It is a simplified Queen Anne building with uniquely crafted elements. These include a half-timber design embedded in the pebble stucco on the fourth floor exterior and outside banisters made of brick leading to the second floor porch. Many of these features were used in housing in eastern states, but the design is unique to Oklahoma.
Located inside the building is a three-bedroom apartment intended for live-in dorm parents. Brick was used to build the first floor and window trim throughout the building. Distinctive eyebrow windows and a skylight provide light to the interior stairwell.
As one of the earliest buildings at Murray State College, the hall has served many functions. It has been both a girls and boys dormitory. A few years prior to its closing in 1972, it was used as an athletic dormitory. It is currently a storage facility for Murray State College.