As has been proven many times in the past, the citizens of Pontotoc County recognize a need to step forward with generous hearts and progressive attitudes. A glance back through Ada’s history tells the story of a town born of just such generosity.
One notable family’s generosity and dedication to the Ada area has become legendary — Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Hays.
Hays was a Native American of Chickasaw blood, the son of Tom St. John and Sarah Hays. He was born Sept. 7, 1874, in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. Once he came of age, and after many baseless lawsuits, Hays was finally given the usual allotment of 320 acres of land bestowed by the federal government. This allotment was located in the southeast section of present-day Ada, known as the Hays Addition.
Daniel Hays married Benetta “Etta” Ford Nunnelly, the daughter of Pleas Ford and Maggie Keirsey Ford, Dec. 20, 1904, in Ada. Soon after their marriage, a home of native stone was constructed on part of Hays’ allotted lands. Described at the time as “a stone mansion, the house was set upon 20 beautifully landscaped acres of the original Hays government grant and is a showplace much admired by visitors to the southeastern part of the state.” The home still stands at 1017 E. 16th St.
In 1909, state officials announced plans to create three more normal schools in eastern Oklahoma. After many months of lobbying by several organizations and the citizens of Pontotoc County, Ada was chosen as the site for one of the normal schools. On March 25, 1909, Gov. Charles N. Haskell signed the Ada Normal School bill. The next question that arose was where to construct the school.
Daniel Hays saw the need in the community and promptly donated 16 acres of his allotted land to build East Central Normal School. Writing in the May 6, 1909, edition of the Ada Evening News, Col. E.H. Lucas had this to say of the land donated by Hays:
“The acceptance of the proposed site will mean that the normal would be located in that magnificent location, avenue style, at the end of East Main Street. From this point, the view could not be more excellent. To stand in the center of the business section of Main Street and look at the point proposed for the location on the east side must bring from anyone an involuntary expression of approval, for it is the prettiest site I ever saw.”
The first building, known as Science Hall, was completed in the summer of 1909. By the summer of 1910, East Central Normal started its second year in its own building on its own campus.
It has been said that Hays’ only request was that he and his wife, Etta, be allowed to live in the native stone home they had built that was located inside the 16 acres. Later, as the need for an elementary school arose on the east side of Ada, the Hays couple again donated land to the city for the construction of the new school. Known as Hayes Elementary School, construction began in June 1919. The misspelling of Hays’ last name remains a mystery.
In many ways, Daniel and Etta Ford Nunnely Hays’ contributions to the affairs of Ada and all of Pontotoc County have made this community what it is today. They selflessly supported all campaigns of patriotic appeal and participated in activities for the community’s advancement.
An article in the 1929 edition of “Oklahoma: A History of the State and its People” by Thoburn and Wright, seems to sum up the character of Dan Hays. It reads, in part, “He is ready to go out of his way to reward the less fortunate in any possible manner. Genial, with a fine warmth in the clasp of his hand, he is an admirable figure, worthy citizen, patriot. The city of Ada has been fortunate in his activities, and his name will go down permanently on the roles of her honored men.”
Katherine Howry is a longtime member of the Pontotoc County Genealogical and Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping local people discover more about their ancestry and grow their family trees. PCHGS, 221 W. 16th, has a wide range of genealogical and heritage materials covering Oklahoma and the United States and is open from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. For more information, contact Katherine Howry at 580-332-5528.