Lilian Hays Oliver

About twenty-five years after the events of the TNT story, local historian and Boone family genealogist Lilian Hays Oliver (1898-1984) wrote down the tales her mother had told her about the history and heritage of the Howell’s Prairie region.

Her book, Crow’s Nest, is perhaps the earliest published document written by a witness to the 1940 Weldon Spring Ordnance Works evictions. It has been used as a source by later historians of the period, most notably Donald K. Muschany (The Rape of Howell and Hamburg, Missouri: An American Tragedy, which can be read in its entirety elsewhere on this website).

Reproduced in the following pages is the full text of Part 2 of Crow’s Nest, “Howell’s Prairie 1800-1940” (pp. 127-187).

The narrative describes 52 properties in and near the town of Howell, all but one of which were taken by eminent domain for the Weldon Spring Ordnance Works. Many of the displaced owners belonged to families had lived and worked on the land from the earliest days of European settlement north of the Missouri River.

Photos and additional information about these homes and farms can be found in the “Maps and Properties” section of this website.

The term “Crow’s Nest” is said to derive from the Native American name for the Howell area—the highest point of land for miles around.

Crow’s Nest was copyrighted in 1969 by Chedwato Service of Burlington, Vermont, a now-defunct specialty publisher of genealogical and family history books, and has long been out of print. The text as presented here has been divided into sections for ease of web access. The book’s original table of contents has been modified to include not only the names of the early property owners identified by Ms. Oliver, but also the names of the owners from whom the land was optioned by the United States government in 1940 and the numbers by which the confiscated properties were identified on the 1940 Weldon Springs Ordnance Works maps. The two maps reproduced on the Table of Contents page are scanned from the book’s Plates 8 and 9.

*   *   *   *   *

Ms. Oliver, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone and Col. Francis Howell, ended Part I of Crow’s Nest with a moving evocation of the catastrophe that came so unexpectedly to the good people of this small rural community (pp.125-126):

“After Grandfather’s death, Grandmother continued to live on the farm with the children though from then on it seemed that changes began to occur which made life different for all . . .

“Automobiles and airplanes soon became too common to cause the residents of Howell to rush to doors and windows. Roads were graveled, and the main street in Howell was black-topped. Electric lights gleamed in the houses. As one walked along the streets in the village, he could hear the radios broadcasting baseball games. Residents drove to St. Charles to shop or to attend a movie, or they went to St. Louis to the Municipal Opera or to Sportsman’s Park to a baseball game.

“The villagers were hardly aware of the gradual transition—until October, 1940. Then they were stunned by the headlines appearing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat. ‘War Department Needs 18,000 Acres for TNT Plant,’ ‘Village of Howell to Be Wiped from Map for Huge War Plant,’ ‘Lives of 200 Families Upset in TNT Plant Area.’ As the days and weeks passed, the headlines continued to tell the story: ‘TNT Site Landowners Petition Roosevelt for Pay Under Options Army Canceled,’ ‘Roadside Auction to Make Way for TNT Plant Like Many County Fairs in One,’ ‘TNT Plant Options to be Attacked,’ ‘Unpaid Landowners Ask House Committee to Hold Public Hearing Here,’ ‘Condemnation for TNT Plant Pushed Despite Protests,’ ‘Fraud Charged in TNT Options,’ ‘Landowners Seek Help of the President,’ ‘Court Voids 120 Weldon Spring Option Contracts,’ ‘Weldon Spring Landowners in Appeal.’

“So in 1940, the land where Francis Howell had settled in 1800 and where his descendants had lived for almost a century and a half again became Government property—this time the property of the United States, not of Spain. Again on Howell’s Prairie an explosive was being produced—not gunpowder at a grist mill, but trinitrotoluene at one of the world’s largest ordnance plants.

“However, the destruction of the little village of Howell and the exodus of the farm families from Crow’s Nest was not one of Mother’s stories, for Mother, having died in April, 1936, did not see this little village which she had loved wiped from the map of Missouri nor the countryside criss-crossed by roads and railroads and dotted by igloos until even old-timers could not find their former homes and boy-hood hunting grounds.

“Now in winter occasional snows cover what was once Howell’s Prairie, hiding for a short time some of the scars left by the war plant. Wild flowers still bloom. Birds sing. Squirrels chatter in the woods. Deer again roam there. Rabbits scurry across the uninhabited acres. Frogs croak in the ponds and marshes. And from the top of a lightning-split tree, a lone crow calls.”

*   *   *   *   *

The image at the top of this page depicts a farm field in the TNT area south of the former site of Howell. The old road that once led to Howell winds between the hills in the far distance.

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

This work is published online as of September 16, 2013.