Fort Hays Prisoner of War Camp

Did you know that the Fort Hays Experiment Station, located south of Hays, was once used as a German prisoner of war camp? Farmers in the area were facing a serious farm labor shortage around August 1943 due to many of Ellis County’s young men being at war. Arrangements were made to contract for labor using prisoners of war at the Concordia camp beginning in September 1943. Before the men could be brought to the Experiment Station, modifications to the buildings had to be made. A large feed barn was converted into barracks and a meeting house was made into a mess hall. The two buildings were enclosed in a 6 foot high fence with floodlights around the area.

A farm labor association was set up to assist the farmers in getting men from the camp to do labor. L. C. Aicher, who was superintendent of the Experiment Station, was named chairman of the association. The Experiment Station was also needing labor for the work around its grounds.

Guards from the military and the prisoners arrived on September 11. The men began working on September 13, and farmers were charged $3.25 a day for each man. The cost to the association was $2.82, and the extra monies went to help pay for the modifications and transportation costs. Most labor was used by farmers, but there were some businesses and schools that also had the prisoners work for them. Fort Hays Kansas State Teachers College was among the schools which hired the prisoners to do labor.

Two German prisoners working with a college employee on removing trees south of Picken Hall in the autumn of 1943.
Picture from the University Archives – Wooster Photo Collection.

The German prisoners of war were used as laborers in Ellis County up to the end of the war in 1945. The camp closed in November 1945.

The Special Collections and University Archives received a collection of pictures that were taken by L. C. Aicher during the fall of 1943. The collection of 17 photos was donated to us by Tom Osswald, whose father served as a military guard at the camp in September-November 1943. These photos are donated in memory of Lawrence E. Osswald (Corporal US Army 480th MPEG Company, Ft. Hays, Kansas, September-November 1943) by his son and family. Corporal Osswald was from Wilmington, Delaware.

The photos have been added to the library’s digital collection and you may view them at http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15732coll14

Much of the historical information in this blog was found in “At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992 Volume 1.”

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University Archives Tidbits – Picken Hall before the columns

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This is a photo of Picken Hall in 1908 shortly after the two wings were added. This is looking at it from the southwest. Martin Allen Hall, which was the gymnasium at the time, is seen in the background. 

An auditorium was in the south wing of the Academic or Administration Building, as it was called at that time. The library had been in the north wing for a short amount of time before moving over to the gymnasium after Sheridan Coliseum was built. The Administration Building was named Picken Hall in 1909 after faculty voted to recommend the name change to the Board of Regents. The Board approved and on May 28, 1909, a bronze plaque with the new name and date was placed in a corridor of the first floor. 

Information from “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961” written by Lyman Dwight Wooster, President Emeritus.

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D-Day – June 6, 1944

The Cecil B. and Laura G. Currey Archive of Military History, located in the Special Collections, has many interesting files, records, memorabilia, photographs and uniforms. Among the items is a pebble from the beaches of Normandy, Utah Beach, France. It was given to Dr. Currey by Robert Fernandez on April 22, 1997. The note with the pebble says “scene of D-Day”, so this probably was not picked up from the beach that day.

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia. http://www.dday.org/

Thank you to the brave men who stormed the beaches seventy years ago and may we always remember the ultimate sacrifice of 9,000+ Allied soldiers.

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160 Years Ago

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 30, 1854. The act repealed the Missouri Compromise which had created an imaginary line across the former Louisiana Territory that established a boundary of free and slave regions. The Kansas-Nebraska Act made it possible for settlers of a territory to decide whether to have slavery or not have slavery within the borders of a new state. As a result of this act, conflicts between pro-slavery settlers and anti-slavery settlers contributed to a violent period of time called Bleeding Kansas in the Kansas Territory and its neighboring state of Missouri. This led to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.

The following page of a letter is from the Historical Kansas Collection within the Special Collections. It was written by Henry Shaw to his cousin Thomas Shaw on November 22, 1857. Henry was a resident of Lawrence, Kansas and Thomas lived in Norwich, New York. Most of the letter gives details about living in Kansas because Henry was trying to get his cousin to come here to farm. There is mention on one of the pages about Lawrence and how it had burned once. It appears that Henry was a free stater.

“Lawrence is a nice town for one so young & so much to contend with being burned once & trouble the most of the time for here has been the centre of all their black damning deeds if I may be allowed the expression. But it is peaceable times here now & we or free state men carried the election without trouble & she is bound to be free or the soil of Kansas will drink the blood of thousands of free men for the majority will hardly submit to a minority so trivial as this Terr. presents. You can buy at the stores here all the comforts that you could in Norw. I belive there is four churches & over than twenty stores & filled to the roof (More at the top of the page)- Now you don’t put off writing & never answer this. My best regards to your wife and the best wishes of your cousin Henry B. Shaw.”

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63 Years Ago Today, May 22

Students and Faculty at Fort Hays Kansas State College were preparing for the last days of classes before finals began during the week of May 20 in 1951. The evening of May 22 changed their lives forever when Big Creek, which flowed through the campus, flooded the campus and the southern part of the city of Hays. Many homes and businesses, including the Post Office and the campus, sustained damage from the flood waters. Three people died when their car was swept off the highway west of Hays – 18 year old Gerald Gipson of Napa, Idaho, 19 year old Joanne Donham and her sister, 17 year old Treva, both from WaKeeney. Robert Ripperteau, the 14 year old stepson of President Emeritus L. D. Wooster, was killed in the basement of his home after a wall collapsed when the water broke through. Dr. C. F. Wiest, 75 year old retired faculty member, was also killed in his home. Hays resident June Bissing Herman, 24 years old, was killed when a tree came through the wall of her basement apartment allowing water to come into the basement.

From the book written by Dr. Wooster titled “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961”, he writes The campus was inundated, and damage to the buildings and campus made it impossible to continue with classes or to house the students. The college year ended without the usual final examinations and commencement. Faculty members prepared grades for students, degrees were granted in absentia, and the graduates were honored at summer school commencement. (pg. 144) Little did they know that one month later, on June 21, another flood would hit the area and do some more damage. The only good news was there was no loss of life from the second flood.

There is now a 1.8 mile levee between Big Creek and the campus which has served its purpose well up to the present day.

Forsyth Library’s front doors the day after the flood. Today this is McCartney Hall.

Looking at the Cody Commons from Picken Hall the day after the flood. Cody Commons was located where the south part of the Memorial Union now stands.

 

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Tidbits from the University Archives

The other day as I was going through some boxes of material for the archives, I came across some files of information that Dr. L. D. Wooster used as he was writing the first history of the college. The book, titled Fort Hays Kansas State College: A Historical Story was published in 1961.

Among the items was a hand-drawn map of the college with the Hays Municipal Airport located just to the west of the campus along the Union Pacific Railroad line. No date was on the map. There was also another hand-drawn map of the college that was most likely drawn around the year 1912. Picken Hall (Administration Building), Martin Allen Hall (Gymnasium), old Rarick Hall (Agricultural Building), and the Incubator are all shown on this map. These maps and the other items were put into acid-free file folders and placed in an acid-free file box.

Other new items added to the archives recently include five papers written by students in a class taught by Dr. Kim Perez last fall – Topics In History: Local History. Many of the houses in the neighborhood directly east of the campus were lived in by faculty members and their families during the earlier years of the college. The students picked four houses that were lived in by the following families: L. D. Wooster (212 W. 7th), Fred Albertson (403 W. 7th), C. F. Wiest (503 W. 7th), and Katherine Bogart (425 W. 5th). The fifth paper is actually a transcript of an interview done by the students and Dr. Perez with Patricia Start Van Doren and her son, Dave; the home that Mrs. Van Doren grew up in is located at 413 W. 13th. The writer of the paper on the house at 425 W. 5th found that it was never owned by Kathrine Bogart, but that she may have lived there as a renter.

L. D. Wooster (Wooster Place Apartments) was a professor of biological sciences and later President of the college; Fred Albertson (Albertson Hall) was a professor of botany; C. F. Wiest (Wiest Hall) was a professor of philosophy; Katherine Bogart was a professor of English; and James Start (Felton-Start Theatre) was a professor of speech.

The University Archives has many stories to share. Feel free to stop by and do some research in the Special Collections Room on the main floor of Forsyth Library!

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Happy Birthday, Kansas!

Kansas will turn 152 years old on Tuesday, January 29. She became a state in 1861 after a volatile period as a territory which had bold consequences for the nation as a whole. The Special Collections Room has a number of books about the history of the Kansas territory and of Kansas statehood. Stop by and browse through the books which make up part of the Western Collection.

Also, the traveling exhibit titled “Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Naturalization in Kansas” is currently on the main floor of the library. It will be here until February 20. Celebrate Kansas Day by coming to view the history of immigrants who settled in Kansas!

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