West Plains College
West Plains, Missouri
Travel and E-Travel
West Plains is my hometown, so I know the buildings associated with West Plains College. Christa Hogan Hospital survived into my adult years, and Catron Opera House still stands on the town square, part of a historic district. There is still a College Street near the old college site. The State Historical Society of Missouri provided scans of five early catalogs, and local newspapers of the era are available through Newspapers.com. The Harlin Museum in West Plains has images and memorabilia from the college.
West Plains College was created to fill the educational needs of Howell County residents. It began at a time when no college-level instruction was available within a hundred miles of West Plains, when public education beyond elementary level was not common, and when the
the county was filled with one-room schools that needed teachers. The two-year preparatory/normal department prepared students to teach in the elementary schools. It also served as the first two years of the four-year scientific program, leading to a Bachelor of Science degree and the first year of the Bachelor of Philosophy program that required Greek and Latin. The commercial division had a shorthand department that included typing and a business department that included bookkeeping.
The catalogs show that the college enrolled around 150 students annually. Almost all were from Howell County. West Plains College was Christian but not sectarian. Students were required to attend the daily chapel, and their names were provided to local churches to encourage Sunday attendance. Catalogs also show that students were issued demerits for failure to attend chapel and for other violations of expected conduct.
West Plains College also had music and elocution departments. It had a literary society in which students were required to participate. Newspapers show that in 1902 students began to provide an annual entertainment in the opera house. The entertainment consisted of a comedy or farce and an operetta. These performances were often repeated as part of the commencement program.
In 1904 West Plains College was purchased by professors J. T. Outen and his son-in-law H. H. Webb. At this point, the emphasis shifted to commercial subjects, and the school is sometimes referred to as West Plains Business College. Webb left the school in 1910; in 1913 it went broke, and Outen sold the property that year, ending the history of West Plains College.
The college building with its bell tower removed. Image courtesy of the Harlin Museum.
Bricks and Mortar
West Plains College was located on the east side of town, one mile from the public square. Funds were raised by popular subscription to construct the $5,000 building. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows it to be a two-story brick structure with 12-foot ceilings, stove heat, and no lights. It contained eleven rooms over a basement, one of which was a chapel used for the daily religious services. Newspaper images show a bell tower. Commencement exercises were held at the Catron Opera House.
In 1913 when the college closed, the building was sold to the Sisters of Charity of San Antonio, who hoped to open a Catholic school. Then in 1919 the building was purchased by Dr. Robert H. Hogan and converted into a hospital. Named for his mother, Christa Hogan Hospital operated as the main hospital in West Plains until Memorial Hospital was built in 1958. It has since been razed.
A football team from West Plains College defeated Willow Springs Academy three times in 1901. The 1902 catalog notes that the college was “heartily in sympathy with anything that supports or conduces to pure, manly athletics.” In September of 1902 the Journal-Gazette reported that an athletic association had been formed “furthering pure athletics.” That fall the “Collegians” defeated West Plains High School football team 24-0 before losing to the Springfield “Normals” 11-0. In the fall of 2003 the “Collegians” again played Willow Springs Academy. The Journal-Gazette notes the presence of a group of “popular young ladies” that had traveled from Willow Springs for the game.
In June of 1904 The Journal-Gazette pictures a baseball team made up of students from West Plains College. That ”fast” team had played nine games against area town teams, winning eight.
Newspaper image of the 1904 West Plains College baseball team. Image from the Journal-Gazette https://www.newspapers.com/image/492605162/