A melting pot of many cultures, Shawnee (population 28,000) is one of the largest cities in central Oklahoma. Shawnee is an excellent example of communities that emerged in the late 19th century as part of the westward movement, organizing its activity around a main street rather than a central square, as did many towns in New England and the South.
Shawnee's Main Street became the focal point for commercial, manufacturing, and entertainment activity beginning in 1895, four years after the region was opened for white settlement in a land run.
Shawnee's growth has been fueled by a variety of industries, starting with the railroads and agriculture at the turn of the century. In 1907, with the historic Santa Fe Depot as the hub, more than 100 trains served Shawnee daily. Shawnee served as the region's agricultural center, with Main Street often lined with bales of cotton, potatoes, peanuts, and watermelons as vendors sold their wares. Feed stores, wagon yards and other associated businesses thrived.
The city's next growth spurt occurred in the 1920s with the Oklahoma oil boom. At the peak of production, prolific Pottawatomie County wells produced more than 120,000 barrels a day. The oil boom stimulated residential construction, the entertainment industry, and many oil-related businesses.
Shawnee hosted the 2004 Statewide Historic Preservation Conference in recognition of its preservation accomplishments. The city has created a Tax Increment Finance District that captures increases in tax revenue for reinvestment in the commercial core, which is being revitalized by the City's Main Street Program.
Downtown Shawnee, Inc., the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Historical Society of Pottawatomie County work closely with the city and private investors on promoting heritage tourism and productively reusing local historic properties. For example, the Aldridge Hotel is being renovated to house apartments for low-income residents and seniors.
Shawnee still retains many resources that provide a living reminder of how Main Street functioned for a great many Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before World War II, Shawnee's Main Street had numerous drugstores and soda fountains that served as gathering places for young people. Today, in a building that has been a drugstore since 1895, Owl Drug retains the old fixtures and is a reminder of a former way life.
Other attractions include the 1904 Santa Fe Depot Museum, the Potawatomi Tribal Museum, the Ritz Theater, restored by the Society for Revitalization of Downtown Shawnee, the art deco county courthouse, and the Shawnee Mission Church, built in 1872 and still in use today.
Visitors also enjoy walking tours of downtown Shawnee and an unusual stained glass tour of historic churches. Heritage education efforts include a historic building coloring book.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2004.