I love local artist Jeff Jones’ new mural on permanent display at First Community Bank on the Neosho Square.

I love local artist Jeff Jones’ new mural on permanent display at First Community Bank on the Neosho Square. 

The artwork incorporates several elements of Neosho’s past, whittled down from the original 15-20 ideas to a manageable number that doesn’t crowd the piece too much. I like that he has also more or less created a landscape scene, and not simply a mosaic of subjects thrown together. 

Featured is the 1975 Neosho tornado that took three lives, injured dozens more, and cut a path of destruction through the south end of town. However, Neosho rebuilt. 

Another feature is children dancing around a Maypole, which used to be an annual thing in Big Spring Park during the May Festival in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Speaking of Big Spring Park, I’m glad to see Big Spring Inn prominently featured in a standalone frame. The local inn was a classy place especially popular for its dining room, with its famous trout dinner, which served a number of celebrities in its time. The inn spanned the area where the fish pool and most of the parking lot is now in Big Spring Park. It burned in 1966. 

The mural tips its hat to Neosho’s famous dogwoods and also to the strawberry industry that was giant in our area in the first half of the 20th century. 

Also prominently featured in a symbolic way, via two men holding a rocket engine, is the Neosho Rocketdyne plant, which built rocket and missile engines for NASA and the US Air Force, and helped propel the nation into the space age. Rocketdyne was in Neosho from 1956 to 1968. The plant facility on Doniphan Drive was subsequently owned by a number of aerospace corporations until shuttering up in 2015. 

Camp Crowder is also an element in the mural, with the World War II camp’s big impact on the community. More than 40,000 troops trained there during the war. Behind Camp Crowder is featured Crowder College as it is today, which sits at the heart of the old training camp, and continues to have an impact on the community. 

Senior Hill, with its painted sections that change every single May, at Neosho High School is also seen in the mural. 

Standing in about the middle of the painting is a Hereford cow, which Jeff put in as a nod to local agriculture and ag-related youth organizations such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America. 

Another prominent element is a Kansas City Southern Railroad passenger train. KCS operated a depot in Neosho from 1922 to 1969. The Frisco Railroad also had a passenger train stop here from 1870 (when it was the Atlantic & Pacific) to 1967. 

Also prominently spotlighted is local viticulturist Herman Jaeger, who helped save the French wine industry in the 1870s by shipping over his experimental, hardy, disease-resistant Ozark hybrid grape vine cuttings in the thousands when European vineyards were plagued with a blight. Jaeger bred more than 100 new varieties of grapes at his farm east of Neosho. 

I’m a heavy reader. It is absolutely my favorite thing to do. Most of the time I’m reading a history book of some sort. However, I understand that are different ways of learning. If people can gain some knowledge about Neosho’s past - which if they live here is, by extension, their OWN past - by looking at a mural, then I’m excited about that. 

Thanks to First Community Bank for wanting to showcase local history - and local artwork - on their wall. 

And well done, Jeff. 

 

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.