El Reno, Oklahoma

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El Reno, Oklahoma
Downtown El Reno
Downtown El Reno
El Reno is located in Oklahoma
El Reno
El Reno
Location in the United States
El Reno is located in the United States
El Reno
El Reno
El Reno (the United States)
Coordinates: 35°31′56″N 97°57′18″W / 35.53222°N 97.95500°W / 35.53222; -97.95500Coordinates: 35°31′56″N 97°57′18″W / 35.53222°N 97.95500°W / 35.53222; -97.95500
CountryUnited States
 • Total79.84 sq mi (206.78 km2)
 • Land79.24 sq mi (205.24 km2)
 • Water0.59 sq mi (1.54 km2)
Elevation1,358 ft (414 m)
 • Total16,749
 • Estimate 
 • Density251.95/sq mi (97.28/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)405
FIPS code40-23700
GNIS feature ID1092512 [2]

El Reno is a city in and county seat of Canadian County, Oklahoma, United States.[4] As of the 2010 census, the city population was 16,729. The city was begun shortly after the 1889 land rush and named for the nearby Fort Reno.[5] It is located in Central Oklahoma, about 25 miles (40 km) west of downtown Oklahoma City.


Panoramic map of El Reno, 1891

The city was originally located about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of its present location, on the banks of the North Canadian River. It was named Reno City, and its mail frequently was confused with that directed to Reno, Nevada.[6]

After the second time the town flooded, it was relocated to its present site. As recommended by the US Post Office, the town changed its name, picking El Reno to distinguish it from the Nevada town. While this means "the reindeer" in Spanish, the town was actually named after nearby Fort Reno. This had been named to honor a Union Civil War officer (see below).[6] Reindeer are not native to Oklahoma.

The land of Canadian County belonged to the historic Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes at the time of European encounter. In 1874, the United States established a fort to supervise the area and General Philip Sheridan took command. He named it Fort Reno in honor of his friend, Gen. Jesse L. Reno, who was killed in the American Civil War.

El Reno is located on the 98th meridian west, about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. The eastern side of the meridian was opened to non-Indian settlement in the Land Rush of 1889. The western side was opened in 1892, when the federal government also made some Cheyenne and Arapaho lands available for settlement by non-Native Americans. The town was subsequently selected as the land district office for the 1901 land lottery drawings.[5]

In 1935 Southwestern Federal Reformatory was constructed about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of El Reno. It was originally restricted to young adult male prisoners, aged 18 to 26. In the mid-1970s it was renamed as the Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno (FCI El Reno); at that time, the age limits were lifted, and men of all ages have been incarcerated here. A medium-security prison, it has become the fifth-largest prison in the U.S. The prison is still one of the largest employers in El Reno.[5] In 2015 President Barack Obama visited the prison, the first time a sitting president has visited any federal prison.[7]

During World War II, Fort Reno, about 5 mi (8.0 km) northwest of El Reno, was the site of a prisoner of war camp for Germans and Italians. The POW cemetery has been preserved and has stones bearing the names of German and Italian prisoners who died there.

Following World War II, the US Army determined it did not need the fort. In 1948 the fort was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for use as a research laboratory.[5] The laboratory studies environmentally sustainable forage and livestock production, contributing to preservation of the Great Plains of North America.

At one time, railroads contributed strongly to the city economy. A terminal and repair facility for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P or "Rock Island"), which employed a large number of people, was based here. Some 750 of the company's 970 employees in the state worked in El Reno.[8] Due to changes taking place throughout the railroad industry, the CRI&P went bankrupt in 1979. It abandoned the depot and railyards in 1980.[8] The railyards are still vacant.[5]

The former train depot and some other buildings were acquired by the Canadian County Historical Society for adaptive use as part of a museum complex.[5] The 1954 film noir Human Desire includes locomotive and yard scenes filmed in the El Reno rail yards.

El Reno is a Main Street America community. The Oklahoma Main Street Program is a statewide program, part of a national network affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It emphasizes downtown revitalization related to public-private partnerships, with investment in public spaces and design, and overall management of retail mix. The El Reno started its Main Street program in 1988; it was one of four cities in 2006 selected nationally to win the annual Great American Main Street Award.[9] El Reno has used economic development, historic preservation, and creative design to enhance the Rock District of downtown.[10] Its high standards are reflected in having been accredited annually since 2016.[10]

Since 1988 El Reno holds an annual Fried Onion Burger Day Festival in downtown the first Saturday in May.[10] This event encourages the celebration of art, music, culture, food and community. Visitors can observe the cooking of the world's largest fried onion hamburger, weighing over 850 lb (390 kg). The giant burger contains meat, fried onions, sliced pickles, and mustard - all held between two giant buns. Festival goers can get a piece of the monstrosity. Volunteers divide the giant burger into individual-sized portions, and other volunteers deliver the free portions to anyone in the crowd wanting a piece. The fried onion burger dates to the Great Depression, when households added onions to ground hamburger mix to stretch out the meat supply.

In 2001, El Reno was the first city in Oklahoma to re-establish streetcar service in the downtown area: the Heritage Express Trolley. Such service had not been available since 1947, and it was the only operating trolley line in the state that year. Another line has since been started in Oklahoma City. The Heritage Express was installed with aid of a federal transportation grant and as part of a complex project also to improve the downtown's streets and drainage system.[8]

On June 15, 2015, Sid's Diner was featured on the Food Network series Top 5 Restaurants, with their fried-onion burger being highlighted. Sid's Diner has also been featured on the Travel Channel series Man v. Food.

21st century tornadoes[edit]

On May 31, 2013, El Reno was hit by a multiple-vortex tornado. The tornado set a record with a width of 2.6 miles (4.2 km). The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes was hit by this storm, but survived it.[11]

Storm chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and his TWISTEX colleague Carl Young died in the storm near the Regional Airport. Paul Samaras and Young were pulled from their Chevrolet Cobalt by the tornado's subvortex. Tim Samaras was found still buckled in the passenger's seat of the car, next to where Young had been driving.[11]

Local amateur chaser Richard Henderson died in that same area. Before being struck, Henderson took a picture of the tornado from his mobile phone and sent it to a friend.[12]

Dan Robinson of St. Louis, Missouri survived the tornado with few injuries. He was a few hundred meters ahead of the TWISTEX crew.[11]

An EF3 tornado struck southern parts of El Reno on May 25, 2019. Touching down at 10:32 pm, the tornado damaged a service station before moving east-northeastward and crossing Interstate 40. It damaged billboards before striking a motel and a mobile home park at U.S. Highway 81, both of which suffered significant damage. One part of the motel had most of its second-floor walls destroyed, and several mobile homes were destroyed, killing two people and injuring many others. East of Highway 81, the tornado damaged an automobile service building and a house on Route 66. The tornado caused tree damage before dissipating on Alfadale Road north of Route 66. The tornado had a maximum estimated width of 75 yards (69 m) and injured 19 people.[13]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 80.4 square miles (208 km2), of which 80.0 square miles (207 km2) are land and 0.4 square miles (1.0 km2) (0.56%) is.[14]

El Reno is located at the interchange of I-40 and U.S. Route 81. At one time, it sat on the boundary between Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, and sits approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of the old Chisholm Trail. Jesse Chisholm is buried nearby.[citation needed]

In 1952, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck near El Reno, causing damage to several buildings in the city. It is currently Oklahoma's third-strongest earthquake on record, and it was the strongest earthquake in Oklahoma history prior to the November 5, 2011 earthquake near Sparks.[citation needed]


El Reno has endured numerous weather-related incidents in recent years:

  • On January 30, 2002, El Reno was hit by a severe ice storm that left most of the city without power for several days and caused thousands of dollars of damage in downed trees and powerlines. The storm brought around two inches of ice, with as much as 6 inches over the following days. All of Canadian County was designated as a Federal Disaster Area.
  • During the May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak, El Reno suffered damage from one of the many tornadoes that formed from the same storm that produced the infamous F5 tornado that day. Parts of Redlands Community College were damaged.
  • El Reno has weathered several ice storms in recent years, including the January 4–5, 2005, storm that left up to two inches of ice in the hardest-hit locations.
  • In 2006, El Reno experienced "exceptional" drought conditions, as the entire state endured one of the driest summers on record.
  • On March 12, 2006, drought conditions allowed an area wildfire to grow to burn over 1000 acres (4 km2). Winds carried the smoke into the Oklahoma City metro area, spurring thousands of calls to emergency services by concerned residents.
  • On April 24, 2006, a rare anticyclonic tornado hit El Reno's municipal airport, causing damage to the hangars and small airplanes.
  • On the night of May 8, 2007, a tornado ripped through the south and east sides of the city. At least one injury occurred when the tornado knocked over a truck and semitrailer on I-40.
  • Overnight on August 19, 2007, Tropical Storm Erin dumped over 10 inches (250 mm) of rain on El Reno and the surrounding area. This caused extensive flooding.
  • On May 24, 2011, a violent long-track tornado passed through the El Reno area, causing extensive damage and killing nine people. The tornado was given an EF5 rating after reviewing the damage.
  • On May 31, 2013, the 2013 El Reno tornado, the widest tornado ever documented, hit El Reno. The tornado was an estimated 2.6 miles in width and had a recorded wind speed of >301 mph, one of the two highest wind speeds on record along with winds observed in the 1999 Bridge Creek–Moore tornado. It hit the outskirts of the city, prompting a tornado emergency for El Reno and surrounding cities. The tornado killed eight people, including three storm chasers.
  • On May 25, 2019, a tornado that has been rated at EF3 struck around 10:28 pm. It struck a mobile home park and a motel, killing two people.
Climate data for El Reno, Oklahoma
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 47.4
Average low °F (°C) 23.9
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.0
Source 1: weather.com
Source 2: Weatherbase.com [15]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)19,965[3]19.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

El Reno is part of the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area.

As of the census of 2010,[17] 16,749 people, 5,727 households, and 3,842 families resided in the city. The population density was 202.7 people per square mile (78.3/km2). The 6,484 housing units averaged 81.1 per square mile (31.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 71.8% White, 11.1% Native American, 7.2% African American, 0.5% Asian, 4.7% from other races, and 4.7% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 12.9% of the population.

Of the 5,727 households, which 31.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.9% were not families. About 28.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.50 and the average family size was 3.08.

In the city, the population was distributed as 24.2% under the age of 18, 10.5% from 18 to 24, 30.8% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 114.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 119.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,200, and for a family was $39,106. Males had a median income of $29,521 versus $20,107 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,570. About 11.4% of families and 16.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.6% of those under age 18 and 10.4% of those age 65 or over.

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The City of El Reno operates under a council-manager government system. City employees include the city manager, finance director, police chief, fire chief, city clerk, public works director, code enforcement director, community services director, and city librarian.[18]

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates the Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno.[19]


El Reno is served by Interstate 40, US Route 81, US Route 270 (just west of town), and Oklahoma State Highway 66.[20]

Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound Lines.[21]

El Reno Regional Airport (KRQO; FAA ID: RQO), four miles southwest, has a 5600’ x 75’ paved runway.[22]

Commercial air transportation is available at Will Rogers World Airport, about 29 miles southeast.[23]

El Reno is on the route of the AT&L Railroad, which has branches running to Watonga and Bridgeport through Geary, Oklahoma, with overhead trackage rights on Union Pacific to Oklahoma City.[24] Traffic includes grain, fertilizer and agriculture-related products.[24] The town is also directly on Union Pacific's rail line,[24] and the railroad honors El Reno as a “Train Town USA,” one of 131 communities out of 7,300 communities it serves, because of the town’s unique, long-standing relationship with the line.[25]



The El Reno Tribune publishes Wednesday and Sunday and has a circulation around 5,000.[26]

For many years the filmmaker George Kuchar would drive to El Reno to document the storm season, staying at the El Reno Motel. The Result was his film Wild Night in El Reno.[27]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]

National Register of Historic Places


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: El Reno, Oklahoma
  3. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  4. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Cynthia Savage, "El Reno." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 118.
  7. ^ "President Obama Visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution." YouTube. July 16, 2015. Accessed September 9, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Anderson, Bobby (16 January 2016). "The Trolley That Saved El Reno". The 405. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  9. ^ "Great American Main Street Award Winners/2006: El Reno, Oklahoma". Main Street America. 2020. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "El Reno Main Street". El Reno Main Street.
  11. ^ a b c Hargrove, Brantley (29 August 2013). "The Last Ride of Legendary Storm Chaser Tim Samaras". Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  12. ^ Clay, Nolan (June 3, 2013). "Oklahoma storms: Amateur storm chaser took photo of tornado that killed him". The Oklahoman. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  13. ^ Public Information Statement: NWS Damage Survey For 05/25/2019 Tornado Event (Report). Iowa Environmental Mesonet. National Weather Service Norman, Oklahoma. May 26, 2019. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  14. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  15. ^ "Historical Weather for El Reno, Oklahoma, United States".
  16. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  17. ^ "El Reno, Oklahoma. 2010 Census results". Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  18. ^ City of El Reno (accessed August 14, 2013)
  19. ^ "FCI El Reno Contact Information." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 1, 2010.
  20. ^ "El Reno, Oklahoma". Google Maps. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  21. ^ "Greyhound Bus Stations in Oklahoma". Greyhound. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  22. ^ "El Reno Regional Airport". AirNav.com. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  23. ^ "Will Rogers World Airport to El Reno, Oklahoma". Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  24. ^ a b c "AT&L Railroad Company, Inc. ATLT #514". Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved April 7, 2018.
  25. ^ "Train Town USA". Union Pacific. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  26. ^ FinderBinder: Oklahoma's Updated Media Directory, 2010 Winter Issue.
  27. ^ "Wild Night in El Reno". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved August 11, 2021.

External links[edit]