Neosho is a city in and the county seat of Newton County, Missouri, United States. Incorporated in 1878, it lies at the western edge of the Missouri Ozarks. The population was 10,505 at the 2000 census.
In 1839, Neosho was designated the county seat for Newton County. In 1846 the courthouse square was laid out during a survey by F. M. Duncan. In 1861, during the Civil War, Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson set up a provisional capital which convened in Neosho; the group voted in favor of Missouri's secession from the Union. Debate flourishes to this day regarding the legitimacy of these actions.
In 1863, during the Civil War, much of the original downtown was burned to the ground by retreating Confederate forces. In 1878, the first courthouse was built in the center of the square and Neosho was incorporated. The Neosho National Fish Hatchery, the oldest operating Federal Fish Hatchery, was built in 1888. The original courthouse was razed in 1936 to make way for the current Art Deco court house, which was completed later that same year under as a Public Works Administration project.
Neosho made national news in the United States following the August 12, 2007 shooting at a downtown church, where a disgruntled parishioner entered the First Congregational Church during the Sunday afternoon service for the local Micronesian community and took the occupants hostage. After releasing the children from the church he opened fire on the remaining occupants, killing three including two fellow parishioners and the pastor and wounding several others before being apprehended by members of the local police.
Neosho is the home of Camp Crowder (formerly Fort Crowder), a Signal Corps training camp built by the United States Army just before World War II. It also served as a prisoner-of-war camp. Some of the soldiers stationed at Camp Crowder went on to find greater fame, including Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Mort Walker, Tillman Franks, and Jean Shepherd. Camp Crowder was well-known to its residents for being muddy and swampy during the rainy season and served as a model for Mort Walker's fictional "Camp Swampy" in his long-running newspaper comic strip, Beetle Bailey.
The effort earned Neosho a coveted All-America City Award from Look magazine and the National Municipal League in 1957. The Flower Box Promotion Committee has supported beautification ever since, awarding 'Beauty Spot' prizes each spring and summer to homes and businesses with outstanding yards, flower gardens, and flower boxes.
The Neosho area was also home to several notables, including:
Neosho also served as a stopover in the lives of other celebrated individuals, including: cowboy philosopher and humorist Will Rogers who, as a young man, briefly attended Scarritt College; Dick Van Dyke who was stationed at Camp Crowder during World War II, inspiring fictionalized events portrayed in The Dick Van Dyke Show, episode #6, November 6, 1961 on CBS; and Billy James Hargis, a sometimes controversial Christian evangelist. Also stationed at Camp Crowder was cartoonist Mort Walker who used Camp Crowder as the inspiration for Camp Swampy in His cartoon series Beetle Bailey. Noted writer Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy currently makes her home in Neosho.
Neosho currently has three properties listed with the National Register of Historic Places:
There were 4,136 households out of which 31.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.5% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.1% were non-families. 29.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.01.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.2% under the age of 18, 10.8% from 18 to 24, 26.1% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 17.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 89.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $31,225, and the median income for a family was $37,790. Males had a median income of $27,672 versus $20,632 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,847. About 8.7% of families and 12.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.3% of those under age 18 and 9.4% of those age 65 or over.
Most of the school buildings in Neosho were destroyed during the American Civil War. In 1866 the first school board was organized and the schoolhouse known as 'old brick' was repaired. It was located on the hill where the current Central Elementary is. In 1872, a new schoolhouse was constructed north of the 'old brick'. Also in 1872, the school board purchased lot 6 in the Hennings addition for a black school.
A new school was constructed on the same site as the original brick building in 1883 to replace the one built in 1872. The building was a two-story, eight-room structure that had two towers that were visible from the downtown square. The Third Ward School was constructed in 1891, as well as, Lincoln School for the blacks. The M.E. Benton School was constructed in 1898. The Third Ward School burned in 1898 and was rebuilt in 1899. It was renamed Eugene Field School after the St. Louis poet. In 1913, the Board purchased the old Scarritt College north of the square for the purpose of constructing a new high school which opened in 1916.
In April 1927, the school board decided that only experienced teachers would be hired. They also decided that there would be no employment of married women and teachers were not allowed to attend public dances. It was recommended that the Bible be read each day with no comment.
The old Central School building was razed and a new one built in 1930. The M.E. Benton School, named for Maecenas Eason Benton, United States House of Representatives for Missouri and father of Thomas Hart Benton, was completely changed in 1937, and a new building for Eugene Field was constructed at the same time. A new high school was constructed for Neosho in 1953 on Neosho Boulevard. The same year the old high school building was repurposed as Intermediate School.
Neosho had the unique distinction of never being a consolidated school until the era of reorganization in the 1960s. To meet the demand of growing enrollment, South Elementary School was built in the 1960s. The site of the original Benton School was moved to a new location in 1990. Neosho Middle School was then built west of the Neosho municipal golf course.. Today, Neosho serves a quarter of the rural school districts which were in Newton County in 1910.