E.W. Marland was born May 8, 1874 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied to be an attorney, graduating from University of Michigan Law School at the age of nineteen. Marland’s years in a law firm led him to an interest in geology and a career in the oil industry. He prospered in the oil business, making his first fortune in the oil fields of West Virginia, only to lose it all in the panic of 1907. In 1908, Marland came to Oklahoma with not much more than belief in himself and a letter of credit. Mr. and Mrs. Marland made their home at the Arcade Hotel, and E.W. set out to explore for oil. (Right: Virginia Marland)
The first gusher of Oklahoma oil came in for Marland in 1911, on land he had leased from a Ponca Indian. Soon after, he discovered two more wells and then it seemed he found oil everywhere he looked. By 1922, E.W. Marland controlled one tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and more than a third of the city’s population were employed by Marland Oil Company.
E.W. and Virginia Marland built a lovely house at Tenth and Grand, near the downtown area. That house had 22 rooms, but what it became known for was the eight acres of formal, terraced gardens. It was acclaimed to be the most beautiful collection of shrubs, flowers, and foliage this side of the Mississippi.
Mr. and Mrs. Marland had no children of their own so they invited two of her sister’s children to come from Pennsylvania for a visit, and they stayed. The nephew, George, and the niece, Lydie, shared in the wealth of their aunt and uncle, being sent to the finest private schools and enjoying lavish parties with their friends in the home on Grand Avenue. Eventually, E.W. and Virginia adopted George and Lydie.
(Pictured here clockwise from left - George Roberts Marland, Mrs. Sam Collins - Virginia's mother, Virginia Marland, Neighbor, E.W. Marland, and Lydie Roberts Marland.)
Marland traveled extensively, and on one of his many trips he discovered the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy. He was quite taken with it and dreamed of having his own “Palace on the Prairie.” He hired architect John Duncan Forsyth, construction began in 1925 and it took three years to finish. In 1926, Virginia Marland died after a long illness, so she never lived in the new mansion.
In 1928, the same year the mansion was finished, E.W. and his adopted daughter, Lydie, traveled in his private railway coach to Flourtown, Pennsylvania where he had her adoption annulled and married her. So, the girl who was first his niece by marriage, and then his adopted daughter, became his wife, the second Mrs. Marland and the “first lady” of the new Marland Estate Mansion. They went on an extended honeymoon and in September 1928, they moved into their new home, E.W.’s gift to his bride.
The grandiose lifestyle that welcomed the Marland’s to their new home did not last long. On November 1, 1928, E.W. Marland resigned as president of his oil company. He was the victim of what could be referred to as a hostile takeover. J.P. Morgan & Co. had gained control of the Marland Oil Board of Directors and their influence on the executive committee left E.W. powerless to carry out his business plans and defenseless against their takeover. They offered to let him stay on as chairman of the board but even E.W. knew he would be just a figurehead with little or no input. They also suggested that he would need to move from Ponca City. They were afraid Marland would start a new oil company, and many of his loyal employees would follow.
E.W. Marland was an employer who was ahead of his time, particularly with employee benefits. He pioneered employer paid insurance, paid eye care and dental bills, and even built over 400 homes for his employees. He did attempt to start a new oil company, believing he could recreate his previous successes in the industry. Had he been successful, many of his employees would have left the old Marland Oil Company to join with him.
In the early 1930's, the Marlands were unable to afford the utility bills, so they moved into the artist studio, a smaller building on the grounds of the estate.
Artist Studio - 1930
Frustrated and embittered by the so-called “money trust," Marland went into politics. His political speeches gave him an opportunity to warn his constituents of the powerful money hungry bankers from back East. In 1932, E.W. was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and he and Lydie moved to Washington D.C. In 1934, E.W. was elected as the 10th Governor of the state of Oklahoma and he and Lydie moved to Oklahoma City. E.W. continued his interest in oil, and one of his personal victories as Governor was the successful leasing of state property at the capital for oil production. While he was still governor, E.W. ran twice for the U.S. Senate, losing both times.
When the Marland's returned to Ponca City in 1939, they moved back into the artist studio for a short while. John Duncan Forsyth, the original architect on the mansion, oversaw the remodeling of the chauffeur’s house to provide suitable living quarters for the Marland's and they moved in there.
Chauffeurs Quarters - 1930
In 1941, E.W. finally had to do the one thing he didn’t want to do: sell the mansion. The house that had been built and furnished at a cost of $5.5 million dollars was sold to the Carmelite Fathers for $66,000. Mr. Marland died of a heart ailment six months later in the cottage where he and Lydie lived.
After Mr. Marland’s death in 1941, Lydie continued to live in her cottage. She lived a quiet, reclusive life and some people even thought she had died. Then, in 1953, she loaded her Studebaker with paintings and tapestries and left Ponca City, not to be seen again locally for 22 years. For most of that time, very few people knew where she was and once again, some even thought she had died. The Saturday Evening Post ran an article entitled “Where is Lyde Marland?” However, while she was gone, she was in touch with her attorney and continued to pay taxes on the little cottage and property that Marland had left to her in his will. She lived on the west coast for a while and in New York City near Central Park. In the 1960’s, during the unrest that surround the Vietnamese War and civil rights, she participated in peace marches in Washington, D.C.
In 1975, the Felician Sisters announced that they were planning to sell the mansion. Lydie came home and wrote a letter to the editor of the Ponca City News, asking the citizens of Ponca City to support the purchase of the mansion and to save this wonderful treasure.
Following her return to the city in 1975, Lydie moved back into her cottage on the estate grounds, and she lived there until her death in 1987. Again, she lived a very reclusive life and was very shy when people approached her. She only went into the mansion, or the “big house” as she called it, a few times.
Mrs. Marland as Oklahoma's First Lady.
Right: Young Lydie Marland with one of her favorite horses.
George is pictured here to the far left.
George Marland was E.W.’s adopted son and Lydie’s brother. He grew up in Ponca City, and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and Yale. After military service in World War I, he returned to Ponca City to join his father’s oil company. He was an excellent polo player and a member of the Ponca City polo team.
George resigned from Marland Oil in 1928 when E.W. did, but kept an office at the administration building of the Marland Estate, located along 14th street. He also purchased the Buick agency in 1928, and ran it for four years till he re-entered the oil business with his father.
He and his wife, Laverne, were married in 1930 and moved to the gatehouse on the Marland Estate. They had three children, a son, Larry, and two daughters, Ann and Margo.
In 1941, after E.W.’s death, George and his family moved to Tulsa where he became an independent oil lease broker. He died of a heart attack in 1957.