The National Park That Was, Then Wasn’t

This is the story of a national park that was, then wasn’t. We visited Chickasaw National Recreation Area because we wanted to see what remained of a national park that once was one of the most visited in the United States. In fact, the park attracted visitors to southern Oklahoma before Oklahoma was even an official state!

Family at the park – probably early 1900s.

Our guess is that most people who visit the park today don’t pay much attention to the park that was. Most of today’s visitors are likely there to enjoy the camping and water sport opportunities that the new park offers. Interestingly, the park has always been about water, but not in the ways most people would think. Enjoy the journey as we explore the historic place that was once Platt National Park.

A wood sign for "Platt National Park" affixed to a stone pillar
Today the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built sidewalks and rock entrance monuments remain but without the wooden signs. National Park Service photo.

Birth of a Park

According to the National Park Service: Between the 1830 Indian Removal Act and 1850, the U.S. government used forced treaties and/or U.S. Army action to move about 100,000 American Indians living east of the Mississippi River, westward to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Among the relocated tribes were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole.

Trail of Tears map. (Wikipedia)

The trails the tribes followed are collectively called the Trail of Tears. Chickasaw and Choctaw settled on the same land grant in the southern third of Indian Territory but later agreed with the government to split the land between the two nations. Lands acquired by the Chickasaw Nation included the area that would later become Platt National Park.

Primary view of object titled 'Platt National Park'.
1924 postcard

Fearing uncontrolled use of their lands’ mineral and freshwater springs, both the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations sold 32 springs along with 640 acres of land to the Department of the Interior for protection in 1902. The site was initially named Sulphur Springs Reservation, however, four years later the name was changed to Platt National Park.

Books and Brochures - Chickasaw National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service)
1939 Guidebook

Platt Historic District

Platt National Park was the seventh U.S. national park and was named after the late Connecticut Senator Orville Platt who had supported legislation to protect the springs located on the land. In 1914, the park, which was then the smallest of all national parks, attracted more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.

Fountain at the original entrance to the park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
Bromide Pavilion, also built by the CCC in the mid-1930s, was a place for visitors to collect water piped in from Bromide Spring until it quit flowing in the 1970s. Today it is still a beautiful building.
1930s comfort station. Now modernized, the structure has withstood the test of time.

Pavilion Springs

Sulphur Springs Pavilion, circa 1902.

Much to the Chickasaw and Choctaw people’s dissatisfaction, visitors flocked to the springs because they believed the mineral waters held healing powers. Resorts such as the one above and others that popped up around the springs brought about the sale of the springs and surrounding lands to the government.

Renamed Pavilion Springs because of several different pavilions built over them through the years, this photo shows a newer, smaller pavilion. Circa 1904.
This pavilion was built by the CCC in the 1930s and still covers Pavilion Springs today.
Pavilion Springs continue to flow. The sign in the background shows the concentrations of minerals in the water.

Travertine Nature Center

Built in 1969, the Travertine Nature Center was the last major improvement project of Platt National Park. The building was designed to reflect the architectural style of renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright while keeping the National Park Service Rustic look of the park’s other structures.

The Travertine Nature Center serves as a visitor center in the park, and while it is a newer building it is considered part of the Platt Historic District. Its features include dioramas depicting the park’s wildlife as well as live exhibits of fish and amphibians. Visitors to the center can pick up park brochures, buy a souvenir in the bookstore, and talk with rangers about the park.

Diorama in the nature center. Foxes, deer, and many other animals can be found in the park.
We think this guy may be a bluegill which is found in the lakes at the park. Whatever he is, he looks kind of grumpy.
Travertine Creek flows beneath the nature center – very Frank Lloyd Wright-ish!

And speaking of history, how long has it been since you’ve seen one of these?

It’s in a little alcove on the outside of the Travertine Nature Center. It doesn’t work anymore, but it was a step back in time to see a pay phone.

Little Niagara

A longtime favorite swimming area for visitors, Little Niagara is a small cascade on Travertine Creek and is just a short walk from the nature center. Improvements at the Little Niagara area, including a dam to create the swimming hole, were also done by the CCC in the 1930s.

Little Niagara
People have enjoyed the waters of Travertine Creek and Little Niagara for many years. This photo is probably from the early 1900s.

Lincoln Bridge

Lincoln Bridge, which replaced an old wooden bridge, was the first improvement project of Platt National Park. Amid much fanfare, the bridge was dedicated on February 12, 1909, in honor of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday and re-dedicated on the same day in 2009 to celebrate its own centennial.

Approaching Lincoln Bridge

Forrest Townsend, who was the first full-time ranger at Platt National Park, designed Lincoln Bridge. Constructed of limestone, the bridge is 120 feet long and 20 feet wide. Four crenelated (notched) towers form the abutments with steps and a flagpole on each one.

View of Travertine Creek from Lincoln Bridge

Lincoln Bridge has long been a favorite scenic spot in the park. We found it to be our favorite too.

Trivia: In 2011, as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters Series, the U.S. Mint issued a quarter featuring Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Lincoln Bridge.

Lincoln Bridge

In 1976, Platt National Park was abolished by congress and combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area to form Chickasaw National Recreation Area. We haven’t covered all of the features of the Platt Historic District here, but we feel fortunate to have seen them. Thankfully the National Park Service has done a great job of preserving Platt National Park’s history.

Little waterfall on Travertine Creek

Where is it?

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is located near the town of Sulfur in southern Oklahoma about 13 miles east of I-35 and the town of Davis. The park’s main visitor center and administration office is located at 901 West 1st Street, Sulfur, Oklahoma. Features of the park include:

  • Travertine Nature Center – exhibits, park information, bookstore
  • Platt Historic District
  • Six campgrounds – some require reservations.
  • Veteran’s Lake – hiking, fishing, picnicking
  • Lake of the Arbuckles – boating, fishing, camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Bison pasture
  • Scenic drives
  • Ranger-led programs
  • Free admission

Access the park’s website here.

Thank you so much for joining us!

Want to visit some other amazing national parks? Try these:

Mammoth Cave National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Happy, safe travels, y’all!

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.


83 thoughts on “The National Park That Was, Then Wasn’t

  1. I’ve never heard of this lovely park, the parks service did a fine job as you said! What happened to the native Americans is angering though, these people had their land stolen from them.

      1. Thank you very much! I am glad that you liked my humorous comparison and of course you can use it at any time. The older I get, the more stupid things I come up with 🙂

  2. You find interesting topics. I am especially fascinated when old photographs show people. It makes the history real and gives me pause to speculate about what life was really like.

  3. Great photos! It’s so nice that the park service preserved the history of the original park. The stonework on Lincoln bridge is beautiful. Thanks for sharing this interesting post. All the best!

  4. The old photograph from 1900 is so full of charm . Watching the people get into position on the falls must have been something. Such an interesting place . It is always good to see springs taken care of.

  5. Just look how fancy those early 1900s visitors are dressed! It’s interesting to read the history of the park and see how it has changed over the years. I remember the old-fashioned telephone – we had one just like that in our hostel with which I used to make a collect call to my parents every Friday night 😉. Great post as always.

    1. Thanks so much for reading our post. Did you check the change return to see if anyone left any money in the pay phone? I’ve done it all my life. I even remember checking every time I walked by the pay phones in high school! Oh, the things we remember. Kellye

  6. Thanks for taking us through the history Kellye. We often look at places today and think they have always been the same and always been there. But, that is not often the case. I would have loved to visit this place in the day. The Lincoln Bridge is pretty phenomenal and a good monument to the man. Thanks for sharing Kellye. Allan

  7. Such an interesting history! I had never heard of Platt National Park before. It reminds me a bit of Saratoga Spa State Park which I’ve visited earlier this summer. There was a lot of craziness around these mineral waters back in the day! Thanks for sharing!

  8. This place looks really interesting! But I wonder why the National Park was abolished by Congress in 1976. I also noticed this Recreation Area could be on our way to Dallas; it’s not too far out of the way. So, I’m glad to have learned about this place. My son lives in Dallas, so we do go that way at least once a year. I love the picture from the early 1900s of people enjoying Travertine Creek and Little Niagara. I would love to see the Lincoln Bridge, too. Thanks for your post!

  9. It’s surprising that national parks can be demoted to just recreational areas. But in any case, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (née Platt National Park) still retains much of that wild beauty today! The history of the Indian Removal Act is one of the most tragic and terrible events in our country’s history, and it’s important to learn about that in relation to visiting the former national park, especially given it’s on native land. Oklahoma’s a part of the nation I’ve yet to visit, but this previous national park is a place to start! Thanks for sharing!

  10. A fascinating history – I hadn’t realised that there were areas that were once national parks but are no longer so. As for the Trail of Tears and all the misery it encompassed, we visited a very moving museum in New Mexico at the Bosque Redondo Memorial which tells the story of the oppression of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache peoples there. Have you visited it?

    1. Thank you, Sarah. Yes, we’ve been to Bosque Redondo, but I haven’t gotten around to posting about it yet. The sad things that happened in the past need to be taught because we don’t want history to repeat itself. We actually thought Bosque Redondo should’ve been a national park unit.

      1. When we went it was very new and incomplete. There were relatively few displays but already we could see it was going to do a good job telling the stories of those affected.

  11. A fascinating read. Thank you, both! I haven’t travelled much in my 70+ years, so your posts are one way to make up for that deficit! Where to, next? 🙋‍♂️

    1. Thank you, Ashley! Our blog was started for our friends and family who couldn’t or didn’t want to travel. Your comment makes us very happy! Our next trip is to northern California and southern Oregon for more national parks. I hope we can miss all the wildfires in the area though.

    1. How interesting that it was then wasnt a national park, especially being more popular than the big names of parks. I love the bridges over the water-that one really does have a Wright feel and the stone ones look like something out of a fairy tale. I always love following along with your posts. The NPS really should hire you 🙂

      1. Brad M

        Not by definition, no. Just makes us curious about how things came to be. I seem to enjoy history more now that I can assimilate bits with everything else I think I know. OK, maybe a little old. 😉

  12. I’d not come across this park previously but your vivid description brings it to life even though I haven’t visited. The old pay phone looked interesting too. I’ve never seen one quite like that !

  13. What an interesting history behind this park! So much happened for it to become what it is today – beginning with the tragedy of the Trail of Tears. I’d be very curious to know more about the health of the Pavilion Springs, comparing the past to the present.

  14. Love it! We have several parks/recreation areas here in Alabama that were build in the 1930s by the CCC. I love checking out the awesome rock work and stone cabins. I had an uncle who worked for the CCC before the war and I recently filed paperwork to the national archives to retrieve his records. It was very interesting seeing on paper the places he worked and his achievements building roads for a local national park. I’m working on another article about it too.

  15. It’s wild to hear that the then Platt National Park was more popular than Yellowstone! It was neat to hear about the history of this area and see some pictures from the past. The Lincoln Bridge looks beautiful and I can easily see why it was one of your favourite spots in the park. Thanks for sharing. Linda

  16. Beautiful … and fascinating. I loved seeing all the buildings as well as the nature. Lincoln Bridge is lovely, I’ve never seen anything like it before … so much character

  17. A really concise overview of a fascinating park Kellye. What a great job you’ve done, especially as you point out that not that many people are aware of its long and complicated backstory. I was pleased with myself because I thought several structures looked Frank Lloyd Wrighty, so was happy to see you confirm just that. Some sad history included here, but of course that is to be expected in this world where greed unkindness have long been the blueprint for human behaviour. I Googled Orville H. Platt to get a look at him. Good grief, what a stern looking man!

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