piece of history
Heritage Partnership compiles,
sells booklet of newspaper clippings
(January 2007) Eminent domain is a term that can
strike fear in the hearts of private citizens who live in an area that
the government needs for public use. In December 1940, some 2,500 Jefferson
County residents found themselves the victims of this law when the government
decided to develop Jefferson Proving Ground, an Army munitions testing
ground, for World War II.
The development of JPG was a boon for the county, however. Thousands
had to be hired to build this massive facility. The history of this
upheaval has been documented and published as a booklet titled, Jefferson
Proving Ground Assorted Newspaper Clippings.
The booklet contains old newspaper clippings and photos that date from
December 1940 through March 1943. The clippings are from the Madison
Courier, Louisville Courier-Journal, Indiana-polis Star and the North
Vernon Plain Dealer. The clippings were recently obtained by Paul Higbie,
a former resident and JPG employee, while visiting a yard sale. Higbie
said he found them in a box of bound, yellowed, crumpled newspapers.
Realizing the importance of the newspapers, he bought them.
He then contacted retired JPG employee Bob Hudson, who was the Technical
Director and assistant to the last six commanders at JPG. Hudson, in
turn, contacted Mike Moore, who is a docent archivist at the Jefferson
County Historical Society. Moore was a retired employee from JPG and
had already been compiling photos, stories and documents from the beginning
of JPG. Moore, with the help of Jefferson County Historical Society
Museum archivist Ron Grimes, worked together documenting and scanning
the clippings and photos and arranging them in chronological order for
The eminent domain edict given in December 1940 seven months
before the bombing of Pearl Harbor gave an entire township 30
days to three months to leave their homes and farms. Some had been in
families for generations.
An entire township was wiped out, said Grimes. That was
Monroe Township. The first 75mm round of ammunition was fired on May
10, 1941. The cost of building the proving grounds was $15 million,
which was twice the amount initially estimated.
Churches were decommissioned, schools closed and cemeteries were moved.
Grimes noted that at the south side of the Fairmount Cemetery, many
of the graves can be found. Moore said there are actually about six
Some people are still buried there. People whose families lived
out there, said Moore.
All families were compensated for their homes, but the emotional cost
for some could never be covered. Today, all that remain of the homesteads
are foundations and rubble.
Its kind of like a ghost town, Grimes said.
Moore said one former resident, Louis Munier, is present for every tour
given at JPG. Muniers family home is featured in a small exhibit
at the historical societys museum. Grimes said he hopes to expand
the exhibit to tell a more complete story of the history of JPG.
The poignant photos in the booklet depict residents sitting around discussing
the issue of uprooting their families; children seated in the one-room
Oakdale schoolhouse the only original building left standing;
families carrying their possessions from the family farm; photos of
the first ammunition testing; barracks; and other buildings pertinent
to operating the military station that would last for the next 50 years
and several wars and conflicts.
JPG was in full production into the early 1990s. It was considered so
successful, that JPG was the model for other proving grounds around
the nation. The last shot fired for the Army took place on May 10, 1994.
JPG officially closed in September 1995. The National Guard still has
eight or nine guardsmen stationed there, according to Moore.
Eventually, the members of the Jefferson Proving Grounds Heritage Foundation
hope to publish a book from the boxes of documents that Moore has compiled
as well as the multitude of taped interviews with surviving residents
of Monroe Township.
Its taken about 20 years to get everything together, and
itll probably take another 20 to get it all transcribed,
joked Moore. For now, the old newspaper clippings will have to tell
the story of the upheaval of the lives of so many.
The booklet sells for $15 and is available
for purchase at the Jefferson Historical Society, 615 W. Main St., Madison;
Historic Hoosier Hills, 1981 Industrial Park Dr., Versailles; and at
the JPG office, 1661 W. JPG Niblo Rd., Madison. Or call Mike Moore at
(812) 273-4156 or Ken Knouf at (812) 273-2551.
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