12. West Plains
Despite a somewhat tragic history, West Plains has risen above many obstacles to become the remarkable little city it is today. The city is home to the West Plains branch of Missouri State University. Its rich musical culture, historic landmarks and rough wilderness setting give West Plains its interesting appeal.
West Plains was originally known as the region of Howell Valley in honor of James Howell, the first settler to the area. The name of West Plains was later chosen to depict where the settlement was situated, i.e. on a prairie west of the closest town.
Because the town lay on the border between the North and South during the Civil War, it was devastated by both sides. The Great Depression later took a financial toll on West Plains as banks failed and residents lost all of their savings. According to Wikipedia, in 1928, a violent explosion rocked the city’s local dance hall, killing 36 residents. The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined, although there are many theories. The community erected the local monument Rock of Ages as a memorial to those who perished.
The city’s website describes West Plains today as a flourishing community known for its contributions to country music. Court Square, the downtown district of the city, is recognized for its historic value. The James P. Harlin Memorial Museum honors such country singer greats as Porter Wagoner and Jan Howard, baseball heroes Preacher Roe and TeddGullic and the well-known actor Dick Van Dyke who comes from this area.
Annual events include the Ozark Heritage Festival, Heart of the Ozarks Fair and the festival of Hootin and Hollarin featuring arts and crafts, square dancing and live country music. West Plains is also home to its very own Motor Speedway which attracts race car fans from all over the region.