Stories of the South - Gulf Ordnance Plant Prairie, MS

                         
I've been trying to decide on a tile to link together some of the tales I've been telling on the blog.  It finally hit me what I should call it, "Stories of the South."  This way I can tag all of them together and make it easier for people to find them.  Hopefully it will become a tab at the top of the page.  I am inordinately delighted about solving this little problem and bringing a little bit of cohesiveness to my writings.  It's the little things people, the little things.  So without further ado, let's talk about the Gulf Ordnance Plant in Prairie, Mississippi.  



Growing up I showed horses, as everyone probably knows by now if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time.  So with showing comes travel and I think I went to just about every riding arena indoor and outdoor in at least a 100 mile radius.  I was lucky to have a pretty nice pony, then a pretty nice horse, two indulgent parents, and cheap diesel.  One of my favorite places to run was at the Monroe County Riding Club area in Prairie, MS.  On the way to the pen you would ride through what was left of the little town.  There's not much there anymore and less today even than when I was a kid.  At least when I was younger the big, old, frame store buildings were still there but those had been town down when I rode through there in May of 2014.  The most notable thing about Prairie to me, is that in World War II it was the home of the Gulf Ordnance Plant.

The Plant in it's heyday.  Image from "And speaking of which..."

This was a plant that made ammunition and bombs and by the end of the war this facility had made one quarter of the ammunition that was used by the Allies.  The site was 6,720 acres and 551 acres were classified as explosive areas.  It was a city unto itself with a coal fired power plant burning 50 tons of coal every day.  They also had their own water pumping station.    



           Smoke stack from the coal fired power plant

The Gulf Ordnance Plant was built by Proctor and Gamble who already had a successful munitions plant in Milan, Tennessee.  Under direction from the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stinson and at no profit to the company construction began March 20, 1942.  

The plant opened November 1942 with grand fanfare from the community.  The local high school band even played.  Workers were bused in from the surrounding communities and some workers came from as far away as Alabama.  Many had moved from across the country and lived in dormitories on site.  It was literally a brand new city with a new permanent population.    

Shell of the bomb factory

The facility was state of the art for the time with blast proof fixtures and underground tunnels connecting the site so that work was completed secretly and safely.  Production ceased in 1945 and destruction of surplus ammunition continued into 1946.  The site continued to be used after the war including use as a trade training school and a facility to overhaul vehicles for the Korean conflict.  Eventually though most of the buildings were demolished due to asbestos.  There are several bunkers left in the surrounding countryside as well as one of the smoke stacks from the power plant, the shell of the three story bomb factory where liquid TNT was cooked and poured into warheads, and a few of the warehouses which are now used as local businesses.  




The most easily seen building is right on the highway and I believe is a telephone office?  Correct me if I'm wrong please.  




A good portion of the original site was sold back to local farmers and the remainder is split between the industrial park and Mississippi State University's experimental cattle ranch.  

 I've always been fascinated with the site and was happy to find information online about it.  Brent Coleman has a great website with black and white pictures from the plant during the production years.  He has also written a comprehensive book about the plant as well.  Please visit his site to see just how large the facility really was was.  There is also another entry on the blog "And speaking of which..." about the Gulf Ordnance Plant.  

Yes I am a big old history nerd.  This should be well established by now.    

It's amazing how times have changed.  A major corporation provided millions of dollars of product for a war effort, paid employees, built a multi-million dollar facility, and all at very little profit to the company.  A place that changed the lives of thousands and yet so little remains.  


Happy Thursday everyone!  It feels good to finally get a good long post out there. I hope you enjoyed.  Let me know if you see any errors and if you have anything to add please leave a comment.  Thanks as always for reading!

Comments

  1. How interesting! It is almost eerie looking once you know what was there once. Any idea why P&G built the facility? Was it just to help the war effort or were they in other lines of business at that time?

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    1. From what I can find, which is not a whole lot I'm really temped to see if I can find a copy of the book by Brent Coleman, they already had one ammunition plant in TN and were asked by the secretary of war to build this one too. I've never really looked into what else they were doing for the war. Lots of companies though stopped production of what they normally made and retrofitted their plants to produce for the war effort. It kind of makes perfect sense that Proctor and Gamble would make ammunition and bombs since they were already in the chemical business.

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    2. Well, this has prompted my memory. Singer stopped making sewing machines and began making pistols and eventually other weapons or at least components for weapons (my memory is rusty). Thankfully, they resumed sewing machine production after the war and gave us our treasured machines!

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    3. I rembered Singer made other things but couldn't remember what.

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  2. oh my gosh this place is so beautiful! i love old buildings and factories. so awesome. and the meadow with the flowers and grasses grown up all around is perfect.

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    1. That is just a really pretty part of the world. I've always loved it.

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  3. There was also an Ordnance plant in Flora. It was initially begun as a bag loading facility and then activated as an ordnance training center, which became the 3rd largest in the US. Their role was to work front lines to repair and maintain ammunition and tools, and they were sent throughout the world when training was completed. I ran across the Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance 1940-1966 in the National Archives while searching for some information about Flora schools.

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    1. It's the stories like this that make me proud to be from Mississippi. People can think we're backwards and ignorant, and yes there is a good dose of that still, and yet there's so many times that Mississippians have stepped up and made a difference to our country.

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    2. Lots of sacrifices were made allover--reduction in food consumptions, women's hoisery, use of lights, and one of the more interesting, the substitution of Postum, a non-caffeine hot drink used instead of coffee. Coffee was rationed and hard to get, so Postum (though not created specifically for that but rather because CW Post was a Morman) was popular. I drank it a while during the 60s. It was grain based, with molasses, among other things.

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  4. I grew up in Prairie. Chopped cotton, worked the hayfields, and explored many a building and underground facilities around that property. Great fishing and hunting. Went to many a rodeo's at the Prairie Park. We used to go at night and catch pigeons in the old buildings. Are you any kin to Steve Pugh? We were friends in Aberdeen HS back in the 70's. Vicky Wilson

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    1. Thank you for the comment. My married name is Pugh so I would have to check with my husband to see if any of his family lived in Aberdeen. Always loved horse showing at the Prairie arena, good times with great people.

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  5. It is surprising how many people don't know about Prairie and the Gulf Ordnance Plant. When I was younger, the many buildings and ruins there always intrigued me. Prairie was like a little Dodge City and very impressive to me as well.

    In the 90's when the area was having a DERP (Defense Environmental Restoration Program) cleanup and removal of many of the buildings I contacted the Aberdeen (1/2 owner of the property, Monroe Co....other 1/2) City Manager and asked that the Telephone Building (11-31) be removed from the list of demolition so the Prairie Vol. Fire Department could use it as a training structure. Ralph Byars agreed to leaving the building for us. I then said I thought the smokestack was a landmark and would like to have it saved. Surprisingly, he agreed to that as well. The boiler house that was attached to the chimney was removed.

    A lot of people thought that the brick building next to the highway was a jail so several years ago I made the sign identifying it as "Telephone HQ". It was actually referred to as the Telephone Exchange Building but i did not have enough room on the sign for that wording.

    I am fortunate enough to actually live on some of the Gulf Ordnance Property and have a little railroad motorcar that I operate on some of the landlocked Gulf Ordnance Plant Railway tracks of which maybe a half mile exists of a once 20+ mile system.

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    1. Thank you so much for writing! And thank you for making the sign for the Telephone HQ. How neat! I've always heard there are bunkers and bits and pieces of the plant scattered all over. I do wish there was more coverage of the plant and how important it was to the war effort and the community.

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    2. I lived there when the Gulf Ordnance Plant was called Stone Homes. After World War II ended, some or all of the single story buildings were turned into housing for Veterans and their families. I was born while my parents lived there during 1948 and 1949. I have been back once with my mother. We had to stand at the gate and look in over the fence. That was around 1983, I think. There was cattle on the land at that time.

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    3. Thank you so much for commenting! The best part of writing these posts is when someone with first hand knowledge chimes in with their personal story. Thank you again!

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  6. I lived there from 1946-1953 and the abandoned plant was our playground,especially the fire-slides from upper storied buildings down to the ground.

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    1. That must have been great fun Don. I can't imagine your mother was very happy when she found yall were going down those slides! Thanks so much for commenting. Like I said above I love when people that lived at the places I talk about let me know their story. Thanks again!

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    2. It was called TTI (Trades Training Institute) and trained war vets for a trade after the war.My father was an instructor of painting from 1946 until we left in 1953.The instructors lived on "staff row" in houses while across the highway other workers lived in the stone homes apartments so called because they were built with stone blocks.The vet students lived in barracks.
      When the Korean War started the Air Force took over many of the facilities.
      More as my memory allows.

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    3. Don you have a fantastic memory. Thanks so much for sharing again. I'd love to hear more as your memory allows. Thanks again.

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  7. I used to think the Stone Homes were named for their construction materials too but research finds that they were named the John M. Stone Homes after a Mississippi Governor. These were designed for families and just North of the Administration & Dormitory Area there were identical apartments named Jeff Davis Apartments for single occupancy.

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