Camp MacArthur

Original Airdate: January 24 (2012)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

Three years in to World War I, a $5 million construction project began on the northwest side of Waco. A few months later in September of 1917, the new training headquarters Camp MacArthur welcomed 18,000 troops from Michigan and Wisconsin. Throughout the rest of the war, the thousands of soldiers stationed at Camp MacArthur became a part of Waco's culture.

Mary Sendón remembers the impact the camp had on her father's shoe business:

"The soldiers began to come to town and have their work done in town. They'd come to my dad's shop. He had a nice big shop where you could sit around and read newspapers, or maybe he'd have magazines there where they—they'd wait. And he always had that place full of soldiers. In fact, he had one of them come in there wanting to work for him one day. (laughs) But he would work late on Saturday night. He'd work day and night, not only on Saturday nights but on weeknights to catch up. Then pretty soon, the—the government gave him a contract to take care of the officers' boots. They all had to have so much done to their boots all the time. (laughs) Of course, the enlisted men would just come and have their own shoes fixed, you know. But he had a contract for those officers' boots. He made a lot of money during the war. That was a bonanza for him. And that's where he got really established."

During the life of the camp, strong ties were formed, as Sendón explains:

"So many of the soldiers that came to Waco at that time married Waco girls when the war was over. And some of them are still living here in Waco. I noticed two or three in the paper the other day at some reunion. And there was one of those Michigan soldiers that had married a Waco girl."

Less than two months after WWI ended, the government ordered Camp MacArthur's buildings to be dismantled and reused for such purposes as the construction of US-Mexican border stations. Cathryn Carlile recalls some of the remnants were used in the Edgefield neighborhood in Waco where she grew up:

"The houses in the 1C block of Hackberry were built in the early 1920s from the surplus lumber from the barracks from World War I. And all of these houses were exactly alike except the two older houses, one at 1C, which was part of the dairy, and the house next door to it. So there were ten houses just alike. And they were very sturdily constructed. Four rooms and a bath. And we did have the utilities. We had utilities."

Frank Curre Jr. bought a house on former Camp MacArthur grounds and tells what he and a neighbor did soon after:

"Was a black man come down the street. Had a mule and a single-disc plow and a homemade rake that they'd made. We asked him what he'd charge to plow up all that back lot all the way across and rake it down smooth. He got out there and did all that. He dug up old hard rubber tire wheels, buckets full of them brass teardrop caps off them old trucks. And we threw all that away. Look what they're worth right now."

Camp MacArthur officially closed on March 7, 1919. Since 1966, a historical marker has stood at the intersection of Park Lake Drive and Nineteenth Street as a reminder of the camp's brief but indelible existence.

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