James H. McBirney came to Tulsa from Kansas to work as a bookkeeper for the Tulsa Banking Company; his brother Sam followed the next year to do the same.
J.H. was soon made assistant cashier and in 1904, when the bank reorganized, became Vice-President. When the bank changed hands to outside interests, J.H. felt it was time to organize a locally-owned bank. He and brother Sam formed the Bank of Commerce which later became the National Bank of Commerce in 1911.
They soon built two of Tulsa's early skyscrapers: the 10-story McBirney office building and the first 8-story home for his bank. These were located on 3rd and Main.
The McBirney Brothers were avid sportsmen. When he first arrived here, J.H. accepted a position as pitcher for the city's first baseball team and Sam who also played on the team, went on to coach at the high school and then at the University of Tulsa.
J.H. traveled frequently to Red Fork after arriving here, to court Vera Clinton. They were married on June 6, 1901 by his father, Reverend Hugh McBirney and by the Reverend C.W. Kerr, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church.
By 1918 J.H. and two associates were developing the *Childers Heights subdivision along the Arkansas River. For his own home, he chose 3 acres near the river where it is believed that author Washington Irving camped in 1832 while traveling West for his Tour of the Prairies. There is an underground spring on this land that attracted many travelers back then, wanting to water their horses or cattle before crossing the river. A ferry replaced the ford serving travelers across the river to Red Fork until the bridges were built.
The photo below of Ora Hall watering her horse was taken at the spring before the McBirney's owned the property:
The 12,000 sq ft. home, built by John Long of Kansas City, was completed in 1927-28. It featured an elevator serving all four floors and incorporated several stained-glass elements in the windows highlighted by an oak and marble fireplace in the large living room. There was a golf course and the spring-fed grotto was stocked with rainbow trout. Looking south, southwest toward the refinery, the house is pictured here on the far right:
The McBirney's had four children: Dorothy, Martha and J.D. Another son, Simmons, died at the age of 16. Among the many notable people who visited the McBirney mansion was Amelia Earhart, friend of Dorothy (pictured below).
In addition to his many civic and business organizations, J.H. gave many years of personal time and money to help the First Methodist Church grow from the time he came to Tulsa. He helped oversee the planning and construction of the magnificent gothic structure that stands on Boulder Avenue.
The McBirney Chapel is a small, beautiful auditorium adjoining the opening into the main auditorium and is dedicated to the memory of McBirney family. He passed away June 8, 1944 at the age of 74.
*The Childers Heights subdivision (named after the Childers family who first owned the land allotment) was where many of Tulsa's first mansions were erected by some of Tulsa's first builders and developers. McBirney's home is one of the last still standing. It was recently purchased by George A. Warde.
These interior photos were taken of the home (a bed and breakfast) a few years ago, showing the striking beauty of the front entrance area and the stained glass in the library:
The mansion today, 1414 South Galveston. I love these old cedar and magnolia trees.
Sources: Tulsa Preservation Commission; The Beginnings of Tulsa by J.M. Hall; Chronicles of Oklahoma by Fred Clinton