ROSE, Okla. – The last of nine district courthouses built in the 1800s by the Cherokee Nation, the Saline Courthouse is full of Cherokee history. After years of ongoing work to restore, preserve and modernize the structure, Cherokee Nation reopened the site Wednesday as its newest cultural museum.
“We’ve made a commitment to preserve and showcase our most meaningful sites throughout the Cherokee Nation reservation,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “This iconic structure had been closed to the public and unapproachable for far too long, but Cherokee Nation Businesses’ Cultural Tourism team invested a tremendous amount of time, energy and care in order to recapture the glory of this building and its surrounding grounds.”
The Saline Courthouse Museum features two galleries, a video presentation room, gift shop, public space and public restrooms. One gallery will feature historical and cultural exhibits while the other will be dedicated to showcasing a different Cherokee artist every two months, with scheduled demonstrations available to the public.
The first historical exhibit is “Saline Courthouse: Home to a Community,” which highlights the history of Saline Courthouse and its transformation to a residence post-Oklahoma statehood. The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 31.
“Vivian Cottrell: From Her Mother’s Hands” is the first in the artist gallery. The exhibit highlights the basketry of Cherokee National Treasure Vivian Cottrell and showcases her mother’s influence on her art form. The exhibit runs through Oct. 24 with artist programming to be announced at a later date. Some artwork is available for purchase onsite.
“Our cultural sites are unique in that they are the backdrop for where our history actually happened,” said Travis Owens, director of cultural tourism for Cherokee Nation. “The Saline Courthouse has played a vital role in the history of the Cherokee Nation and we look forward to sharing that story, as well as the story of the vibrant community that surrounds it, in our newest museum. We’ve got an exciting lineup of exhibits in store and hope the public will join us soon to celebrate our shared history.”
When Cherokees arrived in Indian Territory, they created eight districts from the new land based on the 1839 Constitution of Cherokee Nation. A ninth district, the Cooweescoowee district, was added in 1856 by the Act of the National Council, which Saline Courthouse would later call home.
The original structure was only about half its current size and had jurisdiction over all criminal misdemeanor crimes and civil suits less than $100. Following the passage of the Curtis Act of 1898 by U.S. Congress, the Saline Courthouse was forced to close.
After a series of different owners, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and Cherokee Nation regained ownership in the 1980s. Working with the Saline Preservation Association, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism developed a master plan to restore, preserve and modernize the structure.
Necessary renovations included repairing interior walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors. Exterior renovations varied from siding and window repairs to fresh paint and trim work. In addition, the tribe modernized the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing, worked to ensure ADA accessibility and added new parking.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a grand opening ceremony will be hosted at a later date.
Additional safety procedures such as physical distancing, limited occupancy, and enhanced cleaning and sanitization have been implemented. In addition, guests will be asked to complete a brief health screening and a noninvasive temperature check.
All staff and guests will be required to wear face masks at this time.
The Saline Courthouse Museum is located at 55870 South 490 Road in Rose, Oklahoma. It is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.