About This Place
West Plains is a city in Howell County, Missouri, United States. The population was 10,866 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Howell County. The West Plains Micropolitan Statistical Area consists of Howell County.
West Plains is located at 36°44′14″N 91°51′54″W / 36.73722°N 91.865°W / 36.73722; -91.865 (36.737355, -91.864991). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.4 square miles (32.1 km²), of which, 12.4 square miles (32 km2) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) of it (0.16%) is water.
West Plains was the site of a disaster later remembered in folksong. On Friday, April 13, 1928, about sixty young people had gathered in the Bond Dance Hall, on the second floor of an East Main Street building (the ground floor was occupied by Wiser Motors). At 11:05 p.m., as the orchestra played "At Sundown," a violent explosion occurred. Thirty-seven people were killed and 22 more were injured. Twenty of the dead were never positively identified, and buried in a mass grave at Oak Lawn Cemetery, where they are memorialized by the Rock of Ages monument, erected October 6, 1929. No cause was ascertained, though leaking gasoline from the garage below was suspected. Windows were shattered throughout the Halstead block, and the heat, combined with subsequent explosions, twisted cars on the street out of shape. The nearby West Plains Courthouse was so badly damaged by the explosion that it had to be abandoned, torn down, and a replacement built. Robert Neathery, a lifelong resident of West Plains who died at the age of 96 in 2003, wrote in West Plains as I Knew It about a truck full of dynamite parked in the garage below as a possible cause for the explosion.