McAlester, Oklahoma’s ‘best kept secret’ is a public garden given to the people by the richest man in town

Great State

MCALESTER, Okla. (KFOR) — When he was a kid, the minister of his local church used to send Dr. Bert Thomas to this garden ahead of the Easter sunrise service to place the cross in just the right spot.

“To see just exactly where the first ray of sun hit the ground,” he recalls. “That’s where we would put the cross.”

He came back as a degreed researcher to help the sun shine again on one of the state’s most unique public gifts, the Garrard Ardeneum and Puterbaugh Gardens.

“Ardeneum is a made up word,” says Dr. Thomas. “It’s a combination of Art, Garden and Museum.”

J.G. Puterbaugh was ‘Coal King’ of Pittsburg County, a state pioneer and the richest man in town when he bought the hill above an old rock quarry and moved his family, and extended family, to it.

“He loved this spot,” says Thomas. “He built his house on top of the hill here.”

That family included sisters and sisters-in-law.

Mrs. Puterbaugh loved gardens and transformed this hilltop into a series of formal spaces and informal flower beds set amongst the exposed rock.

Thomas says, “The rock work dates to the 20s and 30s. We have pictures of the garden when it was in full bloom. It was surrounded by flowers and trees.”

A Puterbaugh nephew and his wife Alleece built this place.

Late in life, she promised the whole family compound, gardens included, to the people of McAlester as a gift.

“It’s a nice legacy,” says a visitor.

“It is a nice legacy,” agrees Thomas. “We’re very honored to be part of this.”

There are people who come to walk the gardens or get married in the shade of the Puterbaugh mansion on top of the hill.

In spring, there is a whisper of its legacy on the air, like a magnolia from old, bringing the sweet scent of a well-appreciated gift to anyone who might wander in.

“People tell us this is the best kept secret anywhere.”

Great State is sponsored by WEOKIE Credit Union

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