I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with many wonderful Lawtonians since I’ve been here, from teachers to firefighters, athletes and artists.
But one Lawton woman stood out for her adventurous and generous spirit — and I didn’t even meet her face to face.
Mattie Beal was born Martha Helen Beal in 1879 in Missouri. She later moved to Wichita, Kan., where she worked as a telephone operator, also known as a “Hello Girl,” an interesting fact I learned recently on my tour of Mattie’s restored home here in Lawton.
The house was originally built between 1907 and 1910, on the 160-acre tract Mattie won as a single woman during the 1901 land lottery. The land was near the southern edge of the Lawton townsite, and from it, Mattie generously donated land for Lincoln School, a church and two city parks.
In the two-story, 14-room house, Mattie and her husband lived nearly three decades, raising their three daughters and frequently hosting friends and community leaders. In 1923, Mattie oversaw her home’s renovation to its current art deco style.
Mattie died in 1931, and after her husband sold the home in 1939, it had several owners before it was acquired by the Lawton Heritage Association (LHA) in 1974.
With funds from the McMahon Foundation, the City of Lawton, state and federal agencies, and local civic groups, the LHA was able to save the home from demolition, and from 2003 to 2005, sponsored an extensive renovation of the home, returning it to its former glory.
I’ve had the chance to visit Mattie’s home on two occasions. The first was during the week of Lawton’s 118th birthday celebration this summer, and the second was just recently, when a few family members were in town. I had told my mom about Mattie’s impressive house, and being a history lover, she insisted I take her to see it. (My mom also lives in Wichita, so that connection with Mattie piqued her curiosity.)
On this visit, LHA’s Volunteer Coordinator Sandi Colby cheerfully gave us an informative tour of the historic home. I was quite impressed with Colby’s extensive knowledge of the home and Mattie’s life. Colby’s enthusiastic words brought Mattie’s story to life, painting a picture of a feisty, hard-working young woman who helped transform a fledgling town into a bustling early 20th century pioneer community.
Throughout the home, it’s the details that matter — and they clearly did for Mattie. From the sleek curves of the wooden, spiral staircase to the stunning stained glass landscape above the sitting room fireplace, every corner of the house reveals a new surprise.
Perhaps my favorite details were the pieces of artwork created by Mattie’s daughters hanging in their bedrooms, revealing their creative personalities and young talent.
At the restored home’s dedication on Nov. 16, 1980, the first LHA President Tony Brooks read the following statement: “A town can lose the memories of what it was, and thereby lose the sense of what it is, or wants to be, all in the name of progress, when it rips up the tissues that visually bind one strand of its history to the next.”
It’s a profound sentiment, and one I grow to understand more fully each year I grow older. I am grateful LHA and so many other wonderful groups in Lawton saw fit to restore Mattie’s home and share her legacy with the next generation. I was truly encouraged and inspired to follow in Mattie’s footsteps and invest in my new community.
The Historic Mattie Beal Home, 1008 SW 5th, is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. To learn more, go to lawtonheritage.org.
This weekend, LHA will host a special event titled “Remembering Our History: A Look Back at WWII.” From 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Historic Mattie Beal Home, guests can tour the home and view short presentations on WWII, including personal stories, trench art and a special appearance by The Lawton Pinups. Tickets are $10 and the event is free for veterans. For more information, call 678-3156.
Hannah Maginot is a features and area reporter for The Lawton Constitution. Send her story ideas from your neck of the woods at email@example.com.