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

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



University Archives Tidbits – Picken Hall before the columns


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.


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.



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!


Presentation – February 3rd / Sesquicentennial Exhibit

Kansas 150

The Special Collections Area of Forsyth Library invites you to come celebrate Kansas’ 150th birthday on Thursday, February 3. Kansas will turn 150 years old this Saturday, January 29.

Marla Matkin, of Hill City, will give a presentation at 2:00 p.m. in the South Study Area. “Cherishing Our Historical Legacy” invites you to become an active participant in chronicling the American spirit.  Through true stories of those who forged a new life in the West and celebratory song this presentation connects you to the past and the unique individuals who sacrificed and triumphed.

The Sesquicentennial Exhibit is set up to commemorate the 150th birthday of Kansas which will be celebrated throughout the state in the coming year. See this web site’s calendar for the listed events that will be taking place –

The 18 new display cases, built by FHSU carpenters and installed in the South Study Area, contain a number of items from the collections of Forsyth Library. The exhibit includes petroglyphs, maps, model buildings, printing plates, stuffed tigers and other memorabilia of FHSU. The exhibit will continue through July 31.

A petroglyph is defined as a rock carving, especially a prehistoric one. Our collection of petroglyphs come from along the Saline River in Ellis and Russell Counties, and includes an obsolete technique of fabric rubbings, plaster casts of the carvings, and copper etchings of the carvings. Nova Wells’ book, Petroglyphs of Saline River Valley, Kansas, provided all of the information for the exhibit of the petroglyphs.

The map collection consists of seven framed maps of Kansas dating from 1855-1879. We were graciously given permission by the Special Collection and University Archives. Wichita State University Libraries to use the captions from their excellent web site: A Collection of Digitized Kansas Maps.

The model buildings, which are near the reference desk, represent the church, the school, and the Sisters Convent from the town of Catharine, located 10 miles northeast of Hays. Other model buildings may be seen in the Special Collections Room.

The petroglyph collection was donated by Nova and Carl Wells, the framed maps of Kansas were donated by Timothy Johnson, and the model buildings were built and donated by Jerome Schmidt.

Remembering Jordan Boor

While the academic year at Forsyth Library has yet again begun with optimism and enthusiasm, our usual excitement is dimmed a little this year at the news of the passing of one of our students. Jordan Boor worked last year in the Learning Commons, and was one of the friendly faces visitors to Forsyth Library would see immediately as they walked through the front doors. Anyone who came to the Learning Commons for help on Jordan’s shift would remember him as knowledgeable and eager to help. Jordan had a special gift for trouble-shooting and for technology – his steadfast refusal to give up on a problem astounded and delighted the students and staff who came to him for help.

On the other side of the desk, Jordan’s fellow student workers and the professional staff at Forsyth were treated to a co-worker with a bright smile, a funny story, and a technology tip at the ready.  Throughout the year I spent as his supervisor, I was continually impressed by his innovative approach to his work and his dedication to helping people. Jordan was an integral part of making the Learning Commons a friendly place to visit and a positive voice for technology on campus. His last shift before summer break sums up his attitude and work ethic: hearing about a staff software problem just before we began our end-of-year party, he voluntarily – and without an ounce of negativity – ran across campus and solved the issue before returning to our festivities.

As a newcomer to Kansas who had never worked at a university before, I had a few questions about what I would find in Hays and at FHSU. Although many people helped me see the beauty in the state, the city and the campus, Jordan had an infectious enthusiasm for each that made me appreciate their special charm even more. Among the lessons Jordan taught me were:

  • always keep a coat in the truck, you never know when the weather’s going to change
  • the restart rule applies to all technology, not just computers
  • order the sauerkraut pizza from Lomato’s – you won’t be sorry

Jordan will be missed – and remembered with warm hearts – across campus, in the library, and, especially, in the Learning Commons.


A Stroll Through Memory Lane

A couple of weeks ago, two of my library friends and I walked across campus to see the newly renovated Picken Hall.  We went into the east entrance where we saw two touch screen TV’s, three computers, and an elevator.  Walking up the steps to the second floor, we saw some beautiful stained glass windows and offices for Admissions, Admission Counselors, Financial Assistance, and Scholarship Services.  The third floor housed offices for the Registrar, Academic Advising and Career Exploration, Student Fiscal Services, and the Graduate School.  The Kelly Center, Drug and Alcohol Wellness Network, Testing Services and Prometric Testing Center, and Student Study Commons/Computer Lab were some of the services located on the first floor.  There were also spaces reserved for Conference and Seminar Rooms.

Although it was great to see the “new” Picken, it also sparked memories of the “old” Picken.  I had taken a variety of classes that were held in this building when I was a student during the 60’s.  We also had band practice on the third floor on the southwest side of the building where the Registrar’s Office is now located.  The floors no longer creaked, and all appearances of former classrooms had been erased.  Although I was standing in the middle of a newly designed building, I knew in my heart that I would never forget the “old” Picken and the faces of friends who I oftentimes saw in those halls.

As far as history is concerned, Picken Hall was the first building on the campus of the Western Branch of the Kansas State Normal School (now Fort Hays State University).  It was built in 1904 and was known as the “Administration Building.”  In 1909, it was renamed “Picken Hall” in honor of Principal William S. Picken who was the school’s first administrator.  Two wings were added in 1908, a lily pond was constructed on the east side of the building in 1922, and the stately columns on the west were added in 1926.

Picken Hall has been remodeled on several occasions throughout the years in order to accommodate classroom changes, services, and activities.  At one time, the library was located in Picken which also had displays of natural history specimens.  Plays were held in the Picken Hall Gymnasium.  Then when World War II was over, the campus was swamped with servicemen who came back home to continue their education.  Since few classrooms were available and there was a shortage of teachers, classes were oftentimes held in the halls.  During the flood of 1951, the first floor of Picken was completely flooded.  Since the damage was so great, the state architect recommended that it should be temporarily used and then replaced as soon as possible.  However, this did not come to pass, and Picken Hall has continued to be an important landmark for Fort Hays State University.    –J.A.S.