ARCADIA — Tanya Brackeen found her heart before the horse.
In her new house on Arcadia's Main Street, her heart told her that tiny but booming Arcadia, population a little over 200, was home.
On the street, the sight of someone on horseback — and not for the rodeo parade — let her know it was a different kind of home from where she grew up in urban northeast Oklahoma City.
Arcadia is also unlike the neighborhoods she explored while house hunting across the metro area: It's a little bit town, a little bit country — and thanks to a homebuilding boom, it could grow into an actual suburb, 133 years after its start.
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"I'm still awed by it, just the freedom to get on a horse and ride," said Brackeen, 56, a retired educator and administrator for Oklahoma City Public Schools who bought herself a new house as a retirement gift.
Neighbor Elizabeth Hall, also a new homeowner in Arcadia, had her own Arcadia horse story.
Hall, 23, said she sees people on horseback in town "all the time." One day, she thought she saw a horse moseying along riderless. She was right. When she looked again, she saw it was being led by someone in a car.
It's the first home for Hall, who works for Paycom, and her husband, Jewlelrean Hall, 27, who works for Whole Foods.
"First and last, hopefully," she said. Arcadia suits them. "We ended up choosing Arcadia because you're close enough to the city, but with a small-town feel."
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Brackeen said she didn't plan to move to Arcadia. She said she spent nine months looking all over the metro area for a house, with no success in such a tight market with prices zooming up.
Elizabeth Hall said her move was her husband's idea.
But move to Arcadia they did.
"Everything is growing around here," Elizabeth Hall said. "I think it's going to be a very different place in five or six years."
Their moves fit right into home builder Jay Evans' plans.
Buying a home in Arcadia is buying "in Edmond"
Evans and his Two Structures Homes started buying empty lots and building houses here in 2019. His aim was to attract buyers by offering the least expensive new homes "in Edmond."
He meant the Edmond Public School District, which includes the town of Arcadia and surrounding area.
Price is what got Brackeen here: "Just unbelievable for what you received," she said. "I just felt like it was a great deal."
The telltale sign was one familiar to home shoppers who become home buyers: She walked into one of Evans' new homes and immediately could see where her furniture would go.
"It just felt right," she said, and the street, too. "I figured it would be quiet, and it is: a quaint and quiet town. The neighbors are absolutely wonderful."
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Several of those neighbors on Main Street, and others in Arcadia's 1.5 square miles, also got here the past couple of years. Two Structures Homes and other builders "discovered" Arcadia and the two never fully developed neighborhoods that William H. Odor platted in 1903.
Evans said they — builders and buyers — were attracted to Arcadia for the same reasons: lower prices, as well as Edmond schools: Memorial High School, Central Middle School, and Will Rogers Elementary.
Rising home prices ride the boom to Arcadia
Arcadia has turned into a kind of microcosm of the housing market in general. Demand did what demand does: It raised prices.
"The land was originally pretty inexpensive, and I was looking for a place where we could build entry-level starter homes. That's why we came here initially," Evans said.
Now, with Two Structures buying lots and building, as well as Coldwater Creek Homes, Curt Co. and Shawn Forth Homes, "there's enough activity going on it's not as inexpensive as I would have liked for it to have been," Evans said.
Exact statistics are hard to come by. The Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors tracks sales in the entire 73007 ZIP code, not just the town of Arcadia, and an upscale neighborhood and large homes outside of town skew the numbers upward.
For example, the monthly median home sale price in 73007 last year ranged from $350,000, which was 58% more than the metro-area median price, to $1.34 million.
Two Structures Homes started selling homes in Arcadia for just under $200,000. Now, they're selling from around $250,000 to nearly $300,000, said Amanda St. Clair, who handles sales.
Builder creates a market for homes in Arcadia
Two Structures started with two spec homes — meaning they were built on speculation, not under contract for a buyer — which sold before they were finished, something not uncommon in this sellers' market. Since then, it's been a mix of specs and customs.
"You know, it's interesting. Between me and the other builders, we've probably done more activity in the last two years than they've had in the previous 20 or 25 years. Maybe 100," Evans said.
Developer Jake Schoeffler, who works with Evans, said they've acquired 30 lots and built 13 houses in all. Then there are the other builders.
"The population, I think, in the last census was 215 people. We're looking to make a dent on that," Schoeffler said.
Arcadia: More than a stop on the "Mother Road"
James Woodard, when he was a young man in the 1950s, used to drive home from Oklahoma City to Arcadia after a night out, around midnight or later, "and I was the only one on the highway," Route 66, which skirts the southern town limits.
"Now I wonder what all these people are doing out," said Woodard, 81, mayor of Arcadia.
Arcadia boomed around the turn of the 20th century with growth tied to farming the good land along the Deep Fork River and the streams flowing into it. The population was nearly 1,000 at statehood in 1907.
Growth stalled and the population fell during the Depression and World War II, as people left to find work. Being on Route 66, the "Mother Road" couldn't stop decline, although it was good for businesses on the highway.
Later in the century, the Arcadia Historical and Preservation Society saved one of Oklahoma's last round barns. The Arcadia Round Barn, built by William H. Odor in 1898, was given new life as an entertainment venue and tourist stop.
Early in the 21st century came a new roadside attraction, Pops, a pet project of the late Aubrey McClendon, co-founder of Chesapeake Energy Corp. and part owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder, among other investments. Pops opened in 2007. McClendon died in a car crash in 2016.
Over the decades, Arcadia existed mainly as a tourist stop, with many if not most residents descendants of the earliest townspeople. Infrastructure was spotty. Now there is a town sewer system. The town buys water from Edmond.
The recent building boom started with Evans and Two Structures Homes, the mayor said, then the other builders came.
"It kind of exploded from there," Woodard said. "Every area that can take a house, they're wanting to put one on there."
He said he can't blame them.
"It's almost an ideal place to live — not all the way country, just a small town. Not all the way country," he said, noting that it's just 6 miles to Edmond and Interstate 35, and 17 miles northeast of Oklahoma City and I-40, "close enough to the big city."
Newcomers bring new life to aging Arcadia
People in town have welcomed the newcomers "probably because of the quality of the people moving in," the mayor said. "Usually when people see other people doing things, they want to check it out, and they found out Arcadia is an ideal place to live."
Most of the newcomers are first-time home buyers, St. Clair said.
"Young families," she said. "People needing Edmond schools but wanting a low price, a starter price point."
Even with the change in the broader housing market since he started building in Arcadia, Evans said he's still able to do what he set out to do.
"Keep in mind, our idea was that these would be the least expensive new homes that you could buy in Edmond. And I think they still are, even though the prices have gone up," Evans said.
Evans has a longer view than the next home he starts.
"We'd like to do a development out here," meaning a complete neighborhood, as opposed to building on long-platted but never filled lots on existing streets. "But it is kind of tough.
"One of the things that ends up happening is there are just a few families that own a lot of the land that's still here, and they're just not motivated yet to sell it."
Newcomers to Arcadia, whether in town as it exists now or a new neighborhood, could lend stability to an aging population, he said.
"They're getting a little older in the City Hall," he said. "They really need an influx of younger people to take over those duties."
Schoeffler, Evans' developer, said Arcadia's future is coming in with the new houses being built.
"Arcadia is a really proud town," he said. "Most of the families that are here are founding families from statehood. They need younger people to help the city move on."
Senior Business Writer Richard Mize has covered housing, construction, commercial real estate, and related topics for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com since 1999. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Tiny aging Arcadia near OKC is booming with new homes and newcomers