The Blue Bell Bar
Madame Lizzy’s Legacy: The Blue Bell Saloon
The Blue Bell Bar in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, holds a storied past that mirrors the rugged tales of the American West. Established during the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, Guthrie swiftly transformed from a small town into a bustling city of over 10,000 residents. Owned by John Selstrom and Jack Tearney, the Blue Bell became an iconic saloon, gaining additional notoriety as a high-end brothel and bar under the ownership of the formidable Madame Lizzy.
Oklahoma Land Run and the Rise of Blue Bell
The Oklahoma Land Run, prompted by the Homestead Act of 1862, fueled a rush of settlers to the territory. The act offered 160 acres of federal land to citizens willing to farm it, aiming to develop the American West and stimulate economic growth. As the Blue Bell Saloon emerged almost overnight on April 22, 1889, it bore witness to the transformation of a town with fewer than 10 people into a thriving city. The allure of the saloon was further enhanced by its proximity to the Federal Land Offices, facilitating quick land claims for eager settlers.
Miss Lizzie’s Girls
Originally located at Harrison Avenue and Second Street, the Blue Bell Saloon embodied the Wild West spirit. It started as a tent city and evolved into a redbrick and sandstone town as it grew more “civilized.” The saloon’s disreputable business, particularly the brothel named “Miss Lizzie’s Girls,” became a focal point. Lizzy Sawyer, known as Madame Lizzy, a shrewd businesswoman and devout Christian, managed the enterprise. The brothel, although considered disreputable by contemporary standards, was not uncommon in the late 1800s.
Prominent individuals like President Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Temple Houston, a renowned attorney, Hollywood actor Tom Mix—who also served as a legendary bartender at the Blue Belle—and William Wrigley, the inventor of Wrigley’s gum, have graced the establishment.
The Mystery of Blue Bell’s Hall and Sky-Walk
The success of Miss Lizzie’s establishment led to the construction of a large wood-frame structure in the early 1890s. In 1901, this structure was replaced by a new brick and mortar building, a testament to the enterprise’s prosperity. The upper floor, often referred to as a “hall,” potentially served as a bordello and boasted a connection to the Elks Hotel through an iron sky-walk. A legend surrounding alleged tunnels beneath Guthrie suggests one of the main entrances was near the Blue Bell Saloon, providing a discreet passage for patrons, and potentially linked to the murder case of Claudia.
Endurance Through Business Transitions and Prohibition
The enduring influence of the Blue Bell Bar persisted into the early 1900s, establishing itself as Guthrie’s Territorial Capital until 1913. In 1903, the original frame structure gave way to the current brick edifice, a unique commercial building in Guthrie featuring distinctive bevelled entryways at both the front and back. Adorning the front doorway is the “C-11” crest, representing Ned Cheadle, the local agent and bottler for the Ferd Heim Brewing Co. The construction itself was overseen by the Freemont Land and Improvement Co., a brother company of Ferd Heim Brewing Co.
The Resurfacing of the Blue Bell Bar
Despite the challenges posed by prohibition and evolving business landscapes, the Blue Bell persevered. In the post-prohibition era, various businesses occupied the lower floor. The re-establishment of a bar in 1959 marked a significant moment, and by 1977, it assumed the name “Blue Bell.” Today, the Blue Bell Grill House stands as a cherished destination in Guthrie, meticulously preserving a significant portion of its original interior. The establishment’s rich history, dating back to 1980, is proudly presented by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
The Distilling Culture
Embark on a global journey, and you’ll find that cultures possess tales that harken back to their ancient beginnings of distillation, brewing, and winemaking.
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