Christa Rice

The phrase "home is where the heart is" may have been coined for Christa Rice.

She is the a writer, and history explorer, for the website Explore Claremore History.

She's been on her research and writing quest for nearly six years and she says she's "determined to find and share hidden Claremore history treasures and riches stored in secret places."

She's spent hours upon hours, far more than she could count, diving into the history of some of Claremore's favorite buildings and homes.

Her home may not be in Claremore, but her heart sure is.

Christa Rice is a retired public school teacher who has taught fifth grade American History, English, and reading. In 2007, she was an Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute fellowship recipient. This, she reflected, was an experience that changed everything.

"Immersing myself in this extraordinary Colonial Wiliamsburg and Jamestown Colony living-history experience allowed the past to come alive," she said. "It deepened my love of historical studies, while broadening my research skills."

Her deep dive into all things Claremore, though, began in 1992.

"In1992, as the Rogers County Historical Society's Belvidere Mansion restoration project was getting underway, I made my first excursion to Claremore to explore the antique shops and enjoy the unique historical ambiance that Claremore has to offer its visitors," she said, adding that at this time she didn't know the Belvidere Mansion existed.

Twenty-one years later, in September of 2013, she returned to Claremore on the invitation of some friends wanting to treat her to the Belvidere Mansion tearoom for lunch and an afternoon of antiquing.

"Destiny beckoned," she said. "It was love at first sight."

Rice said she spoke to one of the women running the mansion gift shop and learned the mansion's story hadn't been written.

The Bayless family, who built the mansion, became like Rice's own.

Rice said, "I started doing research on the mansion and the family and it was such a sweet story. There was a lot about John Bayless, he was pretty prominent here in town. But there was nothing written about his wife, which I thought was intriguing because they worked as a team."

Once her research started, she was thrilled at all she was able to uncover.

"My passion for the mansion, and the story of the Bayless family who built it, changed the direction of my life," she recalled. "I joined the Rogers County Historical Society and, for three years, served as their historian and social media volunteer."

Rice was inspired to create a character interpretation of Mary Bayless, first lady of the Belvidere Mansion, to help share the mansion's story with the wider public.

"The mansion is where I started but as I got to thinking about Mrs. Bayless herself, I realized she was influenced by a lot of what went on in her community. She was very active in her community, so that got me thinking about what the community was like," Rice said. "How is it like today? How was it different? The more I research, the more I see what we're talking about going on in Claremore today, a lot of those things are exactly the same. How do we get people downtown? How do we upgrade things? A lot of it is the same."

With mounds of research complete, Rice said she plans to compile it into a book someday.

This journey, she said, started with a story she felt needed to be told. During the process it became a lesson in research methods.

"I do interview a lot of people. I use a lot of Claremore Progress newspapers, which are archived online from 1894 to 1922 through the Oklahoma Historical Society," she said. "I do also use microfilm at the Claremore library."

Insurance maps that show the footprint of early Claremore businesses serve as another research tool, she said.

"And vintage postcards," she said. "Which is actually what I'm doing at the historical society meeting Monday night, a vintage postcard tour through downtown Claremore."

This presentation is at 7 p.m. Monday January 28 at 7 pm at the Belvidere Mansion at 4th and Chickasaw.

Rice said the community is welcome to come share her passion in exploring Claremore history.

“There’s just something about Claremore,” she said. “I don’t know exactly why I’m here, I just fell in love.”