A 15-minute drive down Interstate 40 or historic Route 66 takes a person from the Canadian County seat of El Reno into the heart of Oklahoma’s capital.
That, says El Reno mayor Matt White, helps explain El Reno’s attractiveness and population growth over the past decade.
“We can conduct business in Oklahoma City, but we have a hometown feel,” says White, a longtime real estate and business developer of the community, which lies at the convergence of two highways and two historic routes. “You can go to a Thunder game, and do stuff in Oklahoma City, but live here. It’s a wonderful community.”
El Reno started as a trading post and resting place on the famed Chisholm Trail cattle drives, between Texas and Kansas, before Oklahoma statehood, and benefited from the arrival of the Rock Island railroad. It’s a thriving, energetic community and has proved a draw not only for its residents but for tourists and visitors. And with the re-emergence of city life, activities that draw tourists to the city again are popping up on the calendar.
Some come to El Reno for a taste of the city’s local taste treat, the famed fried-onion burger, developed in the hard economic times of the 1930s by an entrepreneur who augmented his thin hamburger patties with piles of shredded onions, and unknowingly created what became a local delicacy. Today, three fried-onion burger eateries – Sid’s Diner, Robert’s Grill and Johnnie’s Grill – draw a regular clientele of townsfolk and visitors, says Shana Ford, executive director of El Reno Main Street. The city pays tribute to the delicious burger creation with a Burger Day celebration each May.
Ford offers an inquirer a list of other events this year that signal a return to better times. Four new murals are gracing the downtown area, along with four new downtown businesses that have opened recently.
Events such as a Quilt Walk, Christmas parade, the “Smoke on the Water” boat races on Lake El Reno, and the city’s iconic souped-up lawnmower races – held on select weekends by the city’s Grascar Racing Association – are indications that El Reno is around for the long haul.
Population estimates from 2019 place El Reno’s population at just over 20,000, says White, as local officials await figures from the 2020 Census.
Originally 10 miles north, El Reno was established in its present location after the 1889 land run, and today is at the intersection of Interstate 40, U.S. Highway 81 and historic Route 66.
Just west of town is the site of an 1800s military outpost, Fort Reno, established to keep peace on the plains, which remains a tourist draw as an historic landmark that includes a museum, cemetery and a U.S. Agriculture Department research lab. It also includes the post chapel, a national historic site built in 1944 by African prisoners of war captured during World War II.
Golfing enthusiasts will likely enjoy the city-owned Crimson Creek Golf Course, an 18-hole layout that includes holes that were part of the former El Reno Country Club course. The new links were designed by noted golf course architect P.B. Dye.
El Reno Main Street
El Reno Convention
and Visitors Bureau
El Reno Chamber
Historic Fort Reno