131st Bomb Wing – Missouri ANG Community
Southcentral Missouri: Fort Leonard Wood
In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition traversed Southcentral Missouri and what would become Pulaski County, finding green and hilly timbered country laced with rivers, streams and springs, country that looked like home to the settlers from Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas who followed them, and stayed. Interstate 44 runs northeast to southwest through the county, but the storied U.S. Route 66 was there first and still carries traffic as a scenic byway. Fort Leonard Wood has been a fixture since 1940, and military personnel who don’t live on post fan out into nearby communities such as St. Robert, Waynesville, Richland, Crocker and Dixon, or the unincorporated hamlets of Laquey, Swedeborg, Devil’s Elbow, Big Piney or Palace. The Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport, or Forney Field, is a former Army airfield on Fort Leonard Wood. Run jointly by the cities of Waynesville and St. Robert, it serves private planes, Cape Air commercial flights and military needs. The post’s Cannon Range used for gunnery practice lies to the post’s southwest.
The youngest city in Pulaski County, St. Robert on Interstate 44 is the business hub for surrounding communities. National franchises and local merchants give way to the main entrance of Fort Leonard Wood, home of the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and training post for the Engineer, Chemical and Military Police Corps. St. Robert, in one of the fastest growing regions in the country, has a bustling downtown with an enjoyable atmosphere for shopping or kicking back with friends at a local restaurant. This flurry of activity recedes into peaceful neighborhoods, quiet parks and scenic country roads. Head out for a day with the family for some Ozark canoeing, camping or fishing, or relax at one of the community parks. The Pulaski County Regional Fair in St. Robert City Park always is one of the year’s top draws with its monster trucks, farmhand challenges, ATV rodeo, livestock shows, food vendors, carnival and entertainment. For information about schedules, parking and more, visit the fair’s website, www.pulaskicountyregionalfair.com.
Waynesville, in the heart of the Ozarks, is the oldest town in Pulaski County and the county seat and has as its motto, “Preserving the Past, Planning for the Future.” Settled mostly by Southerners, its sympathies lay with the Confederacy during the Civil War, so Union forces built a fort just north of town to protect their Wire Road, a telegraph and supply route that ran from St. Louis to Springfield. Its former courthouse, a Romanesque Revival red brick structure built in 1903, now is a museum filled with Civil War, World Wars I and II, and Desert Storm exhibits. It was the county’s fourth of five courthouses: Its immediate brick predecessor was struck by lightning right after completion and burned to the ground. The Old Stagecoach Stop nearby, also a museum, was built in the 1850s as a Wire Road stage stop and tavern. It also was a hospital during the Civil War, and then a hotel, a dentist’s office and a boarding house for workers building Fort Leonard Wood. Both museums are in the National Register of Historic Places. Roubidoux Park and Laughlin Park, a site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, are green oases in this city of 5,300 people, where Theatre on the Square provides popular community entertainment. The Waynesville Downtown Business Association vigorously promotes revitalization of the city’s core.
The municipality of Richland, west of Waynesville and just 7 miles north of Interstate 44, has taken as its motto “Live, Grow, Prosper,” and prides itself on its friendly small-town vibe. Founded as a railroad town in 1869 and gratefully named after railroad director G.W. Rich, one of its first stores, the H.E. Warren Department Store, remains in business today. The area’s livestock producers and farmers prospered as Richland became a shipping point between Springfield and St. Louis, and these days the town of 1,800 people remains solidly established with banks, medical clinics, a grocery store, restaurants, shopping, fast food spots and industries; since the 1930s, Ozark Fisheries in Richland has been the world’s largest producer and distributor of goldfish. Shady Dell Park is a favorite destination for those seeking to unwind with its horseshoe pitches, pavilions, tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, a lighted baseball field, an open-air theater, a walking trail and playgrounds, and every summer the Tri-County Fair that sets up in the park. A challenging nine-hole golf course is open to the public.
Crocker, northwest of Waynesville, began as a small trading post in the early 1800s but found its future in 1869 as a Pulaski County railroad town; two of its attractions, the Frisco Depot Museum and the cheery red Frisco Railroad Caboose, speak to that history. Other attractions in this antique-rich community of 1,115 include two family-outing farms, Deep Woods Farm and Happy Hollows Pumpkin Patch; the half-mile lighted Crocker Walking Trail that skirts the pleasant lake at Crocker Community Park, ending at the lakeside gazebo; the outdoor swimming pool at the park; and the Crocker Veterans Memorial. Annual events include rodeos, youth bull riding and the Labor Day weekend Railroad Days Celebration. The Pulaski County Library also has a branch in Crocker, where the Ozark terrain, the meandering Gasconade River and the low cost of living draw Fort Leonard Wood commuters.
The town of Dixon, spreading across a green Ozark foothill in the county’s northeast, is another child of the Frisco Railroad’s push west in 1869; it was surveyed and laid out by a railroad surveyor from Dixon, Illinois, who suggested naming the new municipality after his old hometown. Growth since has been steady, and Dixon now has around 1,500 residents, a respected school system, a weekly newspaper, The Dixon Pilot, good service providers and shopping, including two grocery stores, two banks, the Gascosage Electric Cooperative headquarters, Dixon Weather Service, and the Paramount Headwear manufacturing plant. Of the two parks, one is reserved for children and family reunions, and the other is devoted to sporting events such as youth soccer, baseball and softball. The country club has what has been called one of the most beautiful nine-hole golf courses in mid-Missouri.
With their lower costs of living, laid-back lifestyles and neighborliness, smaller Pulaski County communities have attracted Fort Leonard Wood commuters. They include Laquey, just west of the post, which has a school, a post office and its own ZIP code; Swedeborg, in the northwest part of the county, which also has retained its school; Devils Elbow, named after a sharp crook in the Big Piney River where log rafts routinely jammed, which has kept its post office as well; Big Piney, southeast of the post and on the scenic Big Piney River, where those seeking recreation will find resorts with canoes and horseback riding; and the hamlet of Palace.