The Return of the Green Frog Cafe

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When the Wilburton Main Street program was trying to create the community's signature event, they knew it should celebrate local heritage and culture. They wanted something that was fun and would show off the downtown to new customers. Festival planners honed in on an aspect of their community that no other could claim: The Green Frog Café.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, everyone gathered at the Green Frog Café. Maryellen Mooney, program manager of Wilburton Main Street, Inc., points out that back then, if you were looking for the sheriff, you'd find him there. After school trips, the buses dropped students off at the café instead of the school. The Green Frog Café embodied all the good feelings of a close-knit community and hometown atmosphere − things worth celebrating through a signature festival.

"So many people have fond memories of the Green Frog," says Mooney. "People got married there and had their first dates there."

The Main Street program put an ad in the paper asking people to share their memories of this beloved neighborhood institution. "A California man who used to stop in Wilburton on his way to visit his grandparents and enjoyed eating pie at the Green Frog sent us a letter," recalls Mooney. "As a teenager, he and a friend were hitch hiking on a cold, rainy night and got picked up by the sheriff. They spent the night in jail. Without a word, the sheriff picked the boys up in the morning and took them to the Green Frog for breakfast before sending them back home."

Although the restaurant closed in 1975 and the clapboard building has since been torn down, the festival brings it back by setting up a replica with the original neon sign, which still lights up. Festival activities focus on local history. Entertainment includes Native American dancers and music from the era when the café was popular. Storytellers share their tales of the town and the people who featured prominently in Wilburton's heritage. "They talk about the mining days, the tornadoes, the railroads – all the things that impacted or changed Main Street," says Mooney.

Old-fashioned games like sack races and tug-of-war entertain the children. Local and American-style crafts fill up booth space, and a quilt show demonstrates the handiwork of folks in the area. Playing up the frog theme, real frogs are used in the leapfrog runs, and the Green Frog Puddle Jump offers athletes a 5K run and one-mile fun run. Crafters and vendors use the opportunity to sell amphibian-inspired items.

The Green Frog Festival attracts about 6,500 people, which is huge for this small town of approximately 3,000. The Main Street program attracts a broader audience from other parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas by teaming with Potau, a nearby town that hosts a motorcycle ride called the Poker Run. "We tried having a poker run of our own but realized we were competing with Potau, so we partnered with them instead," says Mooney. "Wilburton is a stop on their run and the motorcycle folks love coming to the festival."

Planners are constantly evaluating the festival and adding new activities to make it better and keep people coming. Newcomers are often surprised to find a gallery in town and enjoy antiquing. "One of our goals is to introduce new people to the many wonderful things they can find here," says Mooney. "We have a state park nearby and visitors can enjoy the mountains and our gorgeous vistas. People west of here who are used to an Oklahoma that is flat and dry without trees can come to Wilburton and see how beautiful it is."

The Power of Main Street

National Main Streets Conference: Oklahoma City, May 2-5, 2010.

There is only one gathering each year that brings together people who understand exactly what kind of work you do… the kinds of opportunities specifically available to a community like yours… the types of challenges you face and the creative ways to overcome them. It's the National Main Streets Conference.

For three days, you'll experience a whirlwind of great ideas, inspiring speakers, innovative solutions, and thought leaders who are involved in historic preservation-based economic development. Other conferences may explore community revitalization, but only our conference frames it within the structure of the proven Main Street Four-Point Approach® and shows you how to achieve your goals using volunteer teams.

We are pleased this year to showcase the successes and stories of Main Street communities throughout Oklahoma. This article showcases our host city and its revitalization story. Case studies from communities throughout Oklahoma highlight what's been happening in recent years around this great state to get you amped about joining us in Oklahoma City for our upcoming conference.

Free Main Street 101 Training from National Experts!

There's no free lunch anymore, but there is free Main Street 101 training by National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) staff. New directors, board members, and volunteers are invited to participate in our day-long, free training on the basics of the Main Street approach on Sunday, May 2, at the 2010 National Main Streets Conference. You don't have to be registered for the conference, but we bet the valuable education and the enthusiastic atmosphere will make you want to stay. If you are a Main Street executive director from a town near Oklahoma City with board members and volunteers who plan to experience the conference vicariously through you, encourage them to come for the day and attend the free Main Street 101 sessions. NTMSC staff will cover each point of the Main Street Approach and share inspiring examples so you'll know how things should be done.  Main Street 101 Training (free): Sunday, May 2, 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m