June 11, 2015, marks the 98th anniversary of the announcement that Louisville KY was selected as one of the sixteen cities in America, where the US Army would build a Army Training Cantonment at the onset of World War 1. The City of Louisville had been competing with six other cities in the region to win the contract for a camp that would be located in the Mid-West.
The other competing locations were: Evansville IN., Fort Wayne IN, Indianapolis IN., Jeffersonville IN., Bowling Green KY. and Lexington KY.
Louisville was selected over the other sites for several reasons.
1.) Nearly 4000 acres of undeveloped land was available within a six mile radius of the City.
2.) It was more centrally located (geographically).
3.) It had a better railway system with access to all north to south and east to west lines.
4.) It had a never diminishing water supply.
5.) It was the only City that offered a 5 cent street car line.
6.) It was only one of three cities that had a sanitary sewer system.
7.) It was only one of three cities that would have a rifle range available.
8.) It was the only city that could offer all of the prime requisites.
9.) No other city could provide an equal or better offer.
10.) The City of Louisville guaranteed to give the camp “An Atmosphere of Patriotism, Efficiency and Morality”.
In closing, the selection committee made this statement. ” It’s selection will be best the US Army. the Nation and Best For The Boys.”
This decision put into motion the largest single construction project in Louisville’s history. The camp would house an entire Division of men numbering 47,000, and cost over $7.2 million to construct (approx 200 million in today’s currency).
The construction firm of Mason and Hanger from Lexington KY was selected as the general contractor. Within three days of Louisville being selected, representatives of Mason and Hanger were in Washington to meet with the War Department to discuss the project. The plans were drawn on the train while they were in transit for the meeting.
Material was purchased and delivered to the site the following week by rail car and the first building was started on June 21st. 1917, exactly 10 days after the decision was made to build the camp in Louisville.
Construction continued at a blinding pace. 1787 buildings were built between June 21st and August 28th (when the project was considered to be substantially complete), or 69 calendar days. This also includes 16.3 miles of new roads, 30.8 miles of new sewer lines, 38.7 miles of new water lines, all new electric and telegraph lines, extension of the street car line into the camp, and 6.75 miles of railroad track and spurs.
The photo above was taken three days after construction began. Four (200 man) barracks were under roof and five other buildings were well underway 72 hours after they drove the first nail.The pace increased each day until a 60′ x 200′ two story barrack could be built and under roof in just 1 1/2 hours.
The construction crew numbered in the thousands, with the maximum number of workers peaking on August 19th, 1917, at 10,000 employees. The largest trade employed were the carpenters at 4280 men. Next were the Laborers at 3490 employed then electricians and plumbers at 942. The balance were miscellaneous trades such as truck drivers and water boys. The highest paid employees were the Carpentry Foremen and .75 cents per hour down to the Messenger’s and Water Boys at .15 cents per hour.
The construction of the camp by Mason and Hanger was completed on November 23rd, and officially turned over to the US Army on December 1, 1917. The first troops arrived on September 8th, 1917, and occupied the buildings while the finishing touches were being completed by the contractor.
The camp stayed open for three years until the US Army announced on July 20, 1920, that Camp Zachary Taylor would be closed, which was almost three years to the day when the first building was begun. The camp officially closed for good September 1, 1920. All of the land was sold off at auction the next year, along with a few of the buildings. Some of the original land owners bought back the land they sold to the army just three years earlier for a fraction of what they were paid for it. Of the 7 million dollars spent to build the camp, the army only recouped a little over 1 million at auction.
Copyright 2015, Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society, Louisville KY.