History is all around us.
Yes, I’ve said that before. But it is manifested almost daily. This past week me and co-worker John Harrington spent our lunch hour exploring parts of the World War II era Camp Crowder. Driving down once bustling army streets, now abandoned and overgrown with weeds, we came across a rather interesting discovery. On either side of a particular road we found pairs of foundations directly across the street from each other. There must have been a dozen pairs of these rather peculiar foundations, all located in the the woods and just off the road. Where there were two there were two more across the road.
At first, we didn’t know what to make of it. Detached off of every foundation was a three sided concrete box, about three feet high and 10-12 feet wide, with the two sides angling downward to the ground. Between the “box” and the main foundation was a six to eight inch gap. John found a sooty substance around one of the gaps.
We thought they might be parking bays for jeeps. Well, it MAY have been possible. We were being open-minded.
Later, we looked up photos of Camp Crowder buildings during World War II and, sure enough, found these odd boxes off of some of the buildings. John was getting close to figuring it out. He asked me what Camp Crowder heated with. I said “coal.” Ah ha! The scales fell from our eyes. The detached concrete bays were used to store coal for each building. Looking at the black and white photos we could see that the inside of the boxes were black while the outside, and everything else, was painted a nice clean white. I still wasn’t 100 percent sure until later that night when John found and sent me a color photo, oddly labeled with a more recent date, of one of these bins specifically identified as a coal pile. I have shared it here.
It’s fun finding out little mysteries like that – or at least I think it’s fun. What’s more, it makes me wonder just how many more mysteries are out there among the ghosts of Camp Crowder. For one, we still don’t know what these pairs of buildings were used for. We suspect they may have been radio training buildings, since according to an old Camp Crowder map there was a big communications building nearby, but that is purely speculation. In the photos, most of the buildings where these boxes are seen appear to be barracks, so perhaps that is what they were. One thing we noted from the photos is that the foundations we discovered in the woods were not the whole building. They only supported one corner of it. The rest of the building sat on concrete pylons, like most Camp Crowder buildings. Seeing those abandoned streets, cracked and full of weeds, with brushy woods on either side where I know it was once open space and buildings, is rather sad. I think about all the activity these streets once facilitated, all of the vehicles, all of the many thousands of men and women who passed through there. I think that if Camp Crowder had remained active – the entire original base - it may have been like Fort Leonard Wood, and those streets would still be in use. Instead of scrub oak and thorns there would be buildings and people. Ah well. We do have Ft. Crowder, which uses a part of the original camp, but it is manned by a relative handful of guys when not in use as a Missouri National Guard training site.
Meanwhile, go seek out local history. It isn’t far away.
Wes Franklin writes a weekly column for the Daily News.