GULF ORDNANCE PLANT (1942-1945),
PRAIRIE, MONROE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
There isn't much left at Prairie, Mississippi.
Even in the 1970s when Eric Jonas took these photos of his village on the Black Prairie, it was a pretty quiet place.
Prairie is in southwest Monroe County, on the notorious blackland gumbo, clay flats with native grass and stands of hardwoods.
The area has produced cotton, cattle and hay since the 1840s. These are typical Depression era sharecropper cabins.
Out archaeological reconnaissance recovered harness as well as machine parts from pre-WWII contexts.
The village of Prairie began as a trade and service center for the antebellum plantations
Two Civil War skirmishes were fought here due to the railroad.
With the U.S. entry into World War II, the open and flat land and the railroad attracted a munitions plant.
Prairie lost gins, churches, and one of Mississippi's best rural schools for whites. Despite a brief burst of prosperity during the war, it never recovered as a distinct community.
The Proctor and Gamble Defense Corporation arrived and several sections of land were hastily condemned. Around 60 families, mostly sharecroppers, were removed and construction began on a vast scale.
Each area assigned to distinct functions had a number of identical buildings with redundant construction materials.
The fuse stores and finished munitions warehouses included these St. Louis Lightening Protection Co. lightening rods.
A few on the inert stores and finished munitions warehouses still remain and are used mostly as cotton warehouses and to store hay, feed and equipment.
Concrete slab corrugated iron warehouses included this patent system of reinforcement to allow planks to serve for timbers.
The main effort of all the physical plant development was three lines where artillery shells and rockets were loaded. Aberdeen Police Chief Brent Coleman has described the plant and presented some of these photos from the plant's newsletter The Tracer in a special edition of the TomBigbee Country Magazine.
Safety was of great concern, and the plant had no significant accidents or security breaches.
There was also a 100 pound bomb plant. These are the flake TNT melt kettles.
This three-story building, the bomb plant, on the Aberdeen-Monroe County Industrial Park is the most imposing of the remaining ruins.
While there are still many earthen bunkers or "igloos" and some of the warehouses, only a few of the brick and concrete ruins remain after federally-funded clean-up.
Asbestos was removed, wood frame buildings were burned, and concrete structures were demolished. Vast amounts of concrete rubble were landfilled north of the plant site.
Thousands of people found employment in the construction and thousands more in the factory work, especially women. Bus lines ran throughout northeast Mississippi and into the adjacent counties of Alabama for commuting workers.
For many, it was an introduction to the world of automation, work by the clock, safety rules, guards searching for matches, and even regular cash wages.
In contrast to faltering German and Japanese production, 1945 saw the retooling and installation of a new shell production line. In fact, Mississippi had a second backup munitions plant at Flora that never began production.
Production ended in 1945 and destruction of surplus war stores ran into 1946. The 3000 acre site had various uses, including as a trades training school and the overhauling of vehicles for the Korean conflict. The Gulf Ordnance plant site is now divided between the industrial park and Mississippi State University's experimental cattle ranch.
Contact: Mary Evelyn Starr
Box 39, Sledge MS 38670
Phone (662) 444-5254
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