From the second-story balcony of the State Capital Publishing Museum, Guthrie's historic buildings shine in the sunlight Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (Tres Savage)

GUTHRIE — From a change in congressional districts, to a booming film industry and a bustling distillery, there’s a lot going on in Oklahoma’s first capital city.

The NonDoc team visited Guthrie on Monday for the last stop of our 2021 summer-turned-winter listening tour. In an effort to make new connections, strengthen existing ones and learn what local leaders want from journalism publications, our team met with Guthrie’s state senator, school superintendent, Rotary club, chamber president and other professionals.

“What’s cool about Guthrie is you can walk about anywhere and get everywhere you want to be,” Sen. Chuck Hall (R-Perry) said as we finished our meeting with Brittany Timmons of the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce.

Hall ended up being correct with his assessment, as our staff was able to visit Hoboken Coffee Roasters, the State Capital Publishing Museum, a Guthrie Rotary Club meeting, the Guthrie News Leader office, and WanderFolk Distillery without much need for our cars.

One could even walk less than a mile from the coffee shop to the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, which served as a prominent filming location of the historical drama Reagan, which is scheduled for a 2022 release. (One NonDoc supporter who lives near the temple said Dennis Quaid’s dog urinated in his lawn daily.)

Perhaps more interesting, however, was our visit with Hall and Timmons. Hall elaborated on some of the efforts being made within the city, including the construction of a sound stage for commercial filming and recording as well as a student training facility for Meridian Technology Film Academy.

“From a state standpoint, we continue to support Guthrie from a workforce development standpoint, what we’re doing with the career tech system, what we’re doing with film and music and, of course, we have the [American Rescue Plan Act] dollars,” Hall said.

ARPA provided federal funding to state, local and tribal governments to assist them in responding to the impacts of the pandemic. Oklahoma received a total of $3.19 billion in ARPA funding with $1.87 billion earmarked for state investment and $1.32 billion available to counties, cities and local communities.

“We’re looking forward to reviewing all of Guthrie’s quality ARPA applications, which currently include several water and sewer projects, the refurbishment and long term sustainability of the State Capital (Publishing) building and the Pollard (Theatre), which made an application as well for lost wages and for improvements,” Hall said.

Hall also touched on the recent congressional redistricting that moves Guthrie from Congressional District 3 to CD 5, along with Edmond, parts of Oklahoma City, Lincoln County, Pottawatomie County and Seminole County.

“Guthrie has always worked well with their congressional delegation,” Hall said. “Congressman Frank Lucas was certainly amazing and did a tremendous job. I know that Congresswoman (Stephanie) Bice will do the same. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Bice in the needs that Logan County and Guthrie, specifically, have going forward.” 

‘Every school child in Oklahoma needs to make a field trip here’

The State Capital Publishing Museum is located at 301 W. Harrison Ave. in Guthrie, Oklahoma. (Megan Prather)

To appreciate Guthrie’s growth, one must understand the city’s history. During a visit to the State Capital Publishing Museum, our team learned a great deal from Guthrie Tomorrow Coalition Inc. CEO Lynn Bilodeau.

Once the largest printing facility west of the Mississippi River, the building’s second floor is most famous for its connection to statehood. President Theodore Roosevelt sent a telegraph in 1907 informing locals that Oklahoma had officially become a state. A local physician ran to the balcony, fired his pistol in the air and shouted the news.

The building’s first owner, and Oklahoma’s first newspaper publisher, was a controversial figure. Frank Greer’s divisiveness may also be responsible for the movement of the state capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City in 1910, although that’s a more complicated story.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the towering building on the west edge of downtown now belongs to a local organization dedicated to its preservation and eventual reopening as a museum. Earlier this century, the 115-year-old building had been owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society, and its designation as unused property nearly led to being purchased by a developer who wanted to convert it into apartments. However, Bilodeau and others now operate the Guthrie Tomorrow Coalition formed to preserve and restore the sprawling structure.

Bilodeau said that, during a visit by Gov. Kevin Stitt, he pitched the goals for the building, which include about $10 million of repairs and a program for hosting junior-high students on field trips.

“They’ll get here at 9 a.m., and we’ll send them into the community, and they’ll either write a story or sell advertising,” Bilodeau explained. “They’ll come back here — we can’t let school kids operate the Linotype with molten lead — (so) we’ll have someone print their story out on the Linotype, someone else will show them how to set up the case and put the different headlines in, and they’ll actually put it in a machine and print a little newspaper before they go home that day. Gov. Stitt said every school child in Oklahoma needs to make a field trip here.”

Hall and about four dozen other state legislators also visited the State Capital Publishing Museum last week for a private event. If $5 million can be found — either through ARPA funding or other avenues — Bilodeau said his nonprofit would work to match the amount with private fundraising.

“We’re looking at making is sustainable for the next 100 years,” Bilodeau said.

WanderFolk puts state on the craft spirits map

General manager Derek Duty provides NonDoc’s Angela Jones with a taste directly from an experimental barrel at WanderFolk Distillery in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (Megan Prather)

Our team also visited another spot with historic ties: WanderFolk Spirits. Originally called Prairie Wolf Spirits, the company became the first legal distillery in the state of Oklahoma. Current ownership purchased the distillery in 2018 and began the undertaking of putting Guthrie on the map as a craft spirits location.

“We just got back from the American Craft Sprits Association, and we won a gold medal for best packaging for our gin,” WanderFolk Spirits general manager Derek Duty said. “Our flavored vodka won bronze for its category, and then the entire set got third overall for every brand.”

WanderFolk offers three brands, each with a historic backstory, that can be found in liquor stores and bars throughout the state including Garden Club gin and vodka, Same Old Moses bourbon and Prairie Wolf. The Same Old Moses brand features a name referential to Guthrie’s first bar owner, and bottles state that they are made for all nations “except Carry,” a jab at the famous prohibitionist Carry Nation, who lived in Guthrie just before statehood.

Attached to the distillery is a bar, Mack and Ike’s, which hosts tours and tastings of the company’s product line, which may be expanding soon. Guthrie native Michael Bustamante — a co-owner of the 51st Street Speakeasy in OKC — set up our tour of WanderFolk and pledged to keep his bar stocked with his hometown’s spirits.

However, the distillery’s most interesting undertaking might have come during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. The company shifted all operations to producing sanitizer, making more than 10 million bottles that were sold across all 50 states. Owners also donated 14,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to various state agencies, tribal nations, fire departments and law enforcement agencies.

“I wasn’t here, but these guys pivoted right away to figuring out how to make sanitizer. At the time, only a couple of distilleries were thinking about doing it. They kind of jumped the gun on just figuring it out, and they did it,” Duty said. “In doing so, they got really proactive in reaching out right away, and we got contracts with every hospital system in Oklahoma, the Department of Defense for Oklahoma. Then it got wild and they had a contract federally with the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Guthrie Public Schools is continuing to respond to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the district’s Board of Education meeting Monday evening, board members approved an agreement with BC Behavioral out of Edmond to provide specialized behavioral health services to students.

Guthrie Public Schools Superintendent Mike Simpson said the district lost 25 percent of its student population last year, despite staying open five days a week. While the student population has returned, Simpson said some have struggled with a structured environment.

“The greatest challenge that we’ve seen has been with behavior. It’s not just a Guthrie thing. It’s prevalent in school districts across the state and nation,” Simpson said. “We’ve tried to make sure that we’ve doubled down on all of our resources to get our students back in line to handle a structured environment that we provide in school. We’ve all come together to try to provide the resources.”

Prior stops on our 2021 listening tour

Members of the NonDoc team visited the State Capital Publishing Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (NonDoc)

Our Dec. 13 visit to Guthrie marked our fifth community visit of the year. The effort was made possible thanks to a grant from the Inasmuch Foundation by way of the Oklahoma Media center.

Check out the recaps of our other informative visits:

Editor in chief Tres Savage discusses NonDoc’s mission at the Guthrie Rotary Club meeting on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (Megan Prather)