A piece of history

JPG Heritage Partnership compiles,
sells booklet of newspaper clippings

By Chemaign Kelly
Contributing Writer

(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 publishing.
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 individual cemeteries.
“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.
“It’s kind of like a ghost town,” Grimes said.
Moore said one former resident, Louis Munier, is present for every tour given at JPG. Munier’s family home is featured in a small exhibit at the historical society’s 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.
“It’s taken about 20 years to get everything together, and it’ll 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.

Back to January 2007 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta