The long-awaited and highly-anticipated big-budget adaptation of the bestselling book Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann is being filmed at this moment by iconic filmmaker Martin Scorsese in select locations in Oklahoma, including the former oil industry hotspot of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The book, written by New Yorker staff writer David Grann, a New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, explores the shocking series of crimes in which dozens of Osage tribe members were murdered in cold blood in the 1920s, which led to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The movie, which stars Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, is being filmed in the northeast city of Bartlesville, but also in towns like Pawhuska. While Bartlesville has always been a charming and unique city to visit in Oklahoma, it’s now getting even more attention.
Whether or not you are in town with the big Hollywood celebrities or not, Bartlesville is a unique destination in Oklahoma founded by Jacob H. Bartles, a pioneer, farmer, rancher, businessman, and civic leader of Washington County. Situated within an easy 50-minute drive north of Tulsa, this town was the home base and headquarters of oil magnate Frank E. Phillips, the founder of Phillips 66.
It was also the town I grew up in. My family moved to Bartlesville in the early 1980s and I graduated high school there, but as most youngsters do, I didn’t fully appreciate the stunning beauty, history, or culture of my hometown.
Besides its history as an oil boomtown, it’s also the site of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower, the only recognized skyscraper, a woodland ranch filled with one of the most impressive collections of Western art, many architectural wonders, and a rolling green landscape filled with adventures and agritourism.
The next time you’re in this neck of the woods, here are five of the best things to do in beautiful Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
1. Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Tree That Escaped the Forest”
Undoubtedly, the Price Tower in Bartlesville is one of the most unique structures and sights to visit in Bartlesville. The spectacular copper and concrete 19-story, 221-foot-high tower at 510 South Dewey Avenue was originally built for Harold C. Price as a corporate headquarters for his pipeline construction company.
Wright originally designed the “skyscraper” for downtown New York City in 1929, but after building the structure on the rolling plains of Oklahoma, he nicknamed the building “The Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest” because “it had escaped the crowded forests of Manhattan skyscrapers” and was now able “to cast its own shadow upon its own piece of land.”
Built in the classical angled geometry of a 30-60-90 degree double parallelogram, Wright designed the tower to include one quadrant for double-height apartments and three quadrants for private offices.
Wright’s only completed skyscraper was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and as a National Historic Landmark in 2007.
Pro Tip: The Inn at Price Tower retains much of Wright’s original architecture, so expect small, functional rooms and the tiniest little elevator ever.
You can also book a tour of the famous building, even if you aren’t staying at The Inn. A dinner at Copper Bar + Restaurant is a must (try the Duck Confit Ravioli and the Buttermilk Fried Quail).
2. Visit the First Oil Well in Oklahoma
At Johnstone Park in the heart of downtown Bartlesville sits a replica of Oklahoma’s first commercial well, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1. Its location at Johnstone Park is the site of the original tapping of the well, which led to Oklahoma becoming a boom state for oil.
It was those same rich reserves that made the Osage tribe, which owned mineral rights, the richest people per capita in the world. With this newfound wealth, the Osage people not only built mansions but rode around in chauffeured Rolls Royce automobiles and enrolled their children in European schools.
That same wealth led to a series of cold-blooded murders, which became the newly-formed FBI’s first major case under J. Edgar Hoover.
But there’s more than a well in this green, wooded urban park. When I was a child, we loved going to the Johnstone Park Kiddie, which is a wee little outdoor children’s amusement park where each ride ticket cost .50 cents. Each ride at the park is one ticket, but admission is free.
The park also has a grand view of the Caney River, which runs through Bartlesville, lots of huge pecan and oak trees adorn the walking paths and it even houses a small Audubon bird sanctuary.
3. Explore Western Art at Woolaroc
The Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve was one of my favorite places to visit as a child. Woolaroc is a sprawling 3,700-acre wildlife preserve and world-class art museum that once served as Frank E. Phillips’ private ranch.
He built the ranch and lodge to entertain East Coast guests and investors, but Phillips was a fan of the Old West. Throughout his life, he collected Western art from greats like Frederic Remington and Thomas Moran, Native American artistic artifacts and pottery, and even a couple of shrunken heads from South America (though a friend told me recently that those are no longer on display).
Woolaroc also houses one of the most complete collections of Colt firearms, and altogether, the museum has been recognized as one of the most outstanding Western art collections in the world.
On its grounds, you can walk the three hiking trails (The Princess Trail is paved) or visit the rabbits, chickens, goats, and donkeys at the Animal Barn. The original bunkhouse is now a unique wildlife gallery housing a taxidermy collection of 43 out of 44 species of American waterfowl and an African big-game collection.
Pro Tip: Keep your eyes open for various wildlife on the grounds, including deer, elk, and buffalo. Mr. Phillips originally had many kinds of animals on his ranch, including zebra and a giraffe, but there’s still plenty of wildlife to spot here.
4. Visit the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve
Located a short drive from Bartlesville and 17 miles east of Pawhuska is The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, 8,300 acres of land that is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on the planet.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve includes a herd of more than 2,000 bison, lots of deer, coyotes, more than 300 bird species, and over 700 indigenous plants.
The tallgrass prairie used to range over 14 states but is now only 4 percent of its original size. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma, this natural wonder has been preserved. Every fall, the preserve hosts the annual bison roundup, but throughout the year, visitors can hike the trails, which include the half-mile long Bottomland Trail, the 2-mile Prairie Earth Trail, and the one-mile Study Trail.
Or you can drive through the preserve on the 15-mile Bison Loop to spot these thunderous animals.
Pro Tip: The Visitors Center may or may not be open post-COVID, but the preserve itself is open year round.
5. Tour Historic Mansions and Sites
With its oil-rich history, Bartlesville was home to oil barons, business moguls, and dreamers. They, in turn, built luxurious mansions and homes, many of which are open for tours.
The Frank Phillips Neo-Classical Mansion, known as the Frank Phillips Home, was designed by Walton Everman, a local Bartlesville architect. The exterior design of the home was modeled after the Greek revival style and tours are offered Wednesdays through Saturdays.
The Dewey Hotel in neighboring Dewey is a fully-restored Victorian hotel complete with period furnishings, clothing, and rare photographs of early life. Jacob H. Bartles built the hotel in 1900. Tours are available.
You can also take a walking tour of downtown Bartlesville, which was listed as a Historic District on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1991. The downtown area has a plethora of different architectural styles that reflect its history as a prairie boomtown to its corporate wealth in the late 20th century. You can get a Bartlesville Heritage Trail Walking Tour booklet at the Bartlesville Convention & Visitors Bureau located at 201 S. Keeler.
See the original locomotive No. 940, the last remaining Santa Fe-type “2-10-2” locomotive, at The Union Depot in downtown Bartlesville, This depot also has a Santa Fe caboose No. 2259, restored to its 1948 appearance and a restored 1914 “Flying A” oil tank car. It’s a boon for train enthusiasts.
Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t the only movie that was filmed here. You can take a self-guided fun tour of the locations in the Bartlesville and Pawhuska area where the stars of August: Osage County filmed and stayed. As part of this tour, the Bartlesville Convention & Visitors Bureau designed an itinerary, custom rack card with highlights of locations, and an interactive map created on Google.
Pro Tip: Bartlesville now has its own brewery! The Cooper and Mill Brewing Co. opened its doors in downtown Bartlesville in May 2020.
In addition to all the attractions and history (not to mention occasional movie stars), Bartlesville also has a vibrant shopping and culinary scene. You can relax in one of the many day spas in town or just grab a cocktail and a ribeye steak at the many locally-owned restaurants in downtown Bartlesville.
For me, returning to my hometown brings constant memories, but big surprises. The town has changed from its 1980s humdrum to a boutique little city full of things to do, experiences to discover and new memories to be made.
Oklahoma Towns are unique and different and offer visitors a wide range of interesting attractions: