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.