NEOSHO, Mo. — It’s hard to think of Neosho without thinking of Crowder College and vice versa.
But, the property once had a very different purpose than what it is today.
“We’d have, you know, upwards of 40,000 people in Neosho because you’d have workers and military people and different things, so Neosho was a real booming area,” said Cindy Brown, Director of Public Information, Crowder College.
Before there was Crowder College there was first Camp Crowder, a U.S. Army post built in 1941 by the Army Corps of Engineers. At one point it occupied nearly 67 square miles.
“Crowder College today sits on several hundred acres that we use for our farm and different things, but Camp Crowder occupied all the way to Stella, Goodman, I mean it was a big area. So, the part that the College occupies is just a small part of what was Camp Crowder,” said Brown.
Camp Crowder was named in honor of Missouri-born Enoch Crowder, a major general from WWI who played a major role in enacting the Selective Service Act, also known as the draft, back in 1917.
Another Missouri native, Harry S. Truman visited the camp. Within a few years, following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman would become President and Commander in Chief of the entire U.S. Military.
Comedy writer Carl Reiner was stationed there. He wrote the Dick Van Dyke show whose fictional main characters met at the camp.
A famous cartoonist was also stationed here.
“Beetle Bailey was actually dreamed of while he was here so Mort Walker is the cartoonist for Beetle Bailey. Camp Swampy is actually Camp Crowder known for all the water we had out here,” said Brown.
Hoping to improve the camp’s drainage system was the job of soldiers living at the camp, but they weren’t from the U.S.
“Those prisoners of war were paid workers, so they were treated very well but they had jobs while they were here and they built the drainage ditches which we still have here today,” said Brown.
A portion of the original camp is still in use by the military to this day by the Missouri National Guard.
By the late 1950’s the majority of the camp was declared surplus which gave educators in both counties the idea of putting it to use as a post-high school institution.
“They actually took buses to Jefferson City to talk about turning it into a community college so it was a big consortium and April 2nd, 1963 was when the voters of Newton and McDonald counties formed the Junior College District of Newton and McDonald County’s, now known as Crowder College,” said Brown.