America’s oldest operating federal fish hatchery turns 130

The kids fishing derby hosted by the hatchery has always been a popular event for Neosho youth. Photo from the Neosho archives.

The Neosho National Fish Hatchery just turned 130 years old. Established in 1888 in southwest Missouri, Neosho is the oldest operating federal fish hatchery in the United States.

The hatchery has played a major role in the restoration efforts of endangered aquatic species such as paddlefish, lake sturgeon, Topeka shiners and pallid sturgeon, as well as conservation of the Ozark cavefish.

The story of Neosho is one of a great love affair between a city and its hatchery. The hatchery was strategically placed just outside the small town of Neosho.

Access to reliable quality spring water and the railroad spur of the Kansas City, Fort Smith and Southern Railroad lines provided the resources for successful fish rearing and transportation of stock across the nation.

As time marched on, the tiny town of Neosho slowly began to grow around the hatchery into a city of more than 12,000 people.

The distinctive onion dome atop the hatchery’s main building became an iconic structure in the community as generations of residents adopted the hatchery as a city treasure.

Twice the citizens of Neosho have rallied behind the hatchery to save it from closure.

More than 130 different species of fish have been raised at the hatchery throughout the years. From the beginning, the hatchery has raised rainbow trout. Stocking of these trout enhance recreational fishing opportunities that boost the local economy.

The hatchery was successful in raising endangered paddlefish and lake sturgeon, which led to its current focus on the recovery of pallid sturgeon. 

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