The History of Camp Zachary Taylor – Part 4 – “The Pride and Flower of the Young Manhood of the Nation”

Louisville Kentucky

1911 Map of The City of Louisville, Ky. population 230,000

1911 Map of The City of Louisville, Ky.                                                   copyright CZTHS 2016
population 230,000

In the spring of 1917, The City of Louisville was successful in winning the bid from the War Department, to build the Mid-West Cantonment in Louisville. But there were some conditions attached. Louisville, like many urban areas in the US, had it’s problems. The Temperance Leagues were waging a battle with alcohol sales, and brothels were commonplace in just about every city.

The members of the Board of Trade had some foresight into the problems that accompanied installations of this type. They were very enthusiastic about reporting on the City’s ability to manage any situation that may arise. georgefarmhandsThey were aware that the city had it’s issues, and that the new facility could attract even more undesirables, who would prey on the new recruits. Some of the young men, whom have not been more than five miles home until being drafted, had never been exposed to any of the these vices while living on the farm.

On May 7, 1917, The Board of Trade made assurances in their proposal to the War Department, that everything will be done to clean up the city in preparation of the arrival of these fine young men.

The Special Committee for the Board wrote the following:

Louisville has the most excellent City Government. The Mayor and officials are men of family and reputation who feel a deep sense of responsibility for the welfare of the population who largely own their own homes. These officials of the city do not hesitate to acknowledge the obligation that rests upon them, in joining in this request to the Federal Government to place in this neighborhood the pride and flower of the young manhood of the Nation, to protect their inexperience as far as possible from the temptations that must naturally pursue such camps. The Police Force of Louisville is well trained and officered and desirous of making a record before the country in this regard.


Louisville Mayor John H. Buschemeyer

Louisville Mayor John H. Buschemeyer

Two years earlier in 1915, the Mayor of Louisville, Hon. John H. Buschemeyer appointed a “Vice Commission” to look into, and make recommendations as to how to eliminate or control the prostitution and “Red Light” districts in the city.

Report of The Vice Commission Louisville, KY 1915

Report of The Vice Commission
Louisville, KY 1915

Almost every city had a Red Light district, and Louisville was no exception. Although the commission had published a report, and made its recommendations on how to eradicate the “problem”, none of the recommendations were implemented. The Mayor, who appointed the commission, was not in favor or shutting down the brothels. An ordinance passed by the General Council on March 1, 1915 was the vehicle that started the beginning of the end of the brothels. The Mayor was very much a supporter of the establishments, and felt that the city could regulate them and considered them A necessary evil. The commission had no powers to implement the plan or take any legal action to eliminate prostitution.


When the proposal to build Camp Zachary Taylor came to becoming a reality, so did the question of the prostitutes. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson and Federal Government formed the “Commission on Training Camp Activities” (CTCA). The Commission’s first official act was the prevention of venereal disease among the American Troops. This started at home, in the new Training Camps. The CTCA also envisioned the broader possibility of more wide sweeping social change.

Newton D. Baker, US Secretary of War, 1916-1921

Newton D. Baker, US Secretary of War, 1916-1921

Mayor John H. Buschemeyer, an advocate of regulated prostitution, sent Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, a statement of his opinion about the role of segregated vice in Louisville. He wrote:

“I do not deem it proper, practical nor advisable in my humble judgment, to close these houses and disseminate these women through the orderly self-respecting and decent people and neighborhoods of the community, but realize that with strict surveillance we can control them absolutely with our police power, believing that regulation is the best method of handling this vast and aged problem”.

The Commission on Training Camp Activities was responsible for the physical health of the men in uniform. They took this crusade that the President had assigned to them; “To mold a New American Fighting Man to the cities that would house them. The commission set out to reinforce the characteristics of the New American Army to be “fit and straight in everything and pure and clean through and through”. The Mental, Moral and Physical Manhood of the new American Soldier was going to be “Powerful yet pure, virile yet virginal”.

America, Here's My Boy,

America, Here’s My Boy
c 1918

The CTCA hired investigators to find the existence of vice areas, and along with their own agents, the Intelligence Department of the Army, and members of local organizations, the CTVA encouraged local communities to pass strict anti-vice legislation. The CTVA gathered detailed evidence of the vice in local areas, insisted that local law enforcement agencies enforce existing and new ordinances that were pushed through by the CTCA. The CTCA was very successful in eradicating the “Red Light” districts in Louisville and other major cities. By October of 1917, the CTCA had closed Red Light districts in nineteen cities.

This pressure by the CTCA was the final weight needed to force the closing of houses of prostitution. Louisville’s Mayor and many residents, supported the continuance of the district, but if it was allowed to remain, the building of the camp in Louisville would be put in question. The Mayor, citing the Louisville’s Vice Commission’s report of 1915, argued that the Brothels could be forced out of business by regulation of alcohol sales and entertainment. But the CTCA’s position was  “To phase out the Red Light district by prohibiting music and liquor in the houses” was not the solution that they had in mind.

Although Mayor Buschemeyer struggled with the idea of closing the houses, he knew that failure to do so could mean that the camp may not be built. Buschmeyer let the Federal government know that the city would cooperate, and in July of 1917, just weeks after the start of construction had begun, the city passed legislation closing the red light district, with very little or no opposition. The Courier-Journal, who just one month earlier called the CTCA’s attempts to close the houses, “an impractical reform” and “unobtainable”, reversed their position and supported the campaign.  On the first day of September, 1917, seven days before the arrival of troops, the Louisville Police Department enforced the deadline that was set forth on August 16, and the districts were forever closed.

"Green Street" Louisville's "Red Light District"

“Green Street” Louisville’s “Red Light District”

Louisville’s “Red Light” District was generally (and ironically) centered along “Green Street”, east of Downtown Louisville. When the Houses of Ill Repute were shut down, the street name was patriotically changed to “Liberty Street’, in respect of the war effort.

………………….End                     Copyright Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society 2016

The History of Camp Zachary Taylor – Part 3 – “Preparing for War”


US 1917 Division Boundary Map

On April 6, 1917, The United States was officially “At War”. Imperial Germany had been attacking American Ships for several years. The ships were carrying supplies to our allies in Europe, who we were supporting in the war effort. The following link is a German documentary film showing the sinking of many Allied Ships in the Atlantic.

German U-Boat Silent Film Documentary WW1

News arrived in Louisville in on May 7th, 1917, that a bill in congress would be passed to fund the building of 16 Army Training Camps across the US, with one located somewhere in Indiana or Kentucky. In addition to the 16 Army Cantonments, they also planned to build 16 smaller National Guard camps. The 16 Army Cantonments cost an average of $7 1/2 Million dollars each, or about $120 Million Dollars combined. Today that would convert to about $2,446,800,000.00 dollars.

Most of the camps were placed close to populated areas. The sparser the population, as in the west, the further apart the camps were located. Most of the camps were built east of the Rocky Mountains This is evident in the US Army Division Boundary Map, (shown above) . The upper mid-west was mapped out for the 84th Division. It included the states of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.


84th Arm Patch, 1917- 1920

Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky were well known for their connection to Abraham Lincoln. Kentucky was the birthplace, Indiana the childhood home, and Illinois was his adult home and final resting place.  When the 84th Division was organized in August of 1917, it selected the nickname “The Rail Splitter Division”, or “Lincoln Division” in honor of him.

On May 24, 1917, the United States War Department appointed a commission to locate suitable building sites across the US. They were to investigate and report back on available sites that met their requirements. For a site to be considered it had to meet these minimum requirements. Although these requirements seem very basic today, not many cities across the country could even qualify.

1.) A suitable camp site

2.) A suitable Maneuver Field

3.) Ample supply of pure filtered water

4.) A sanitary sewer system

5.) Street car service to and from the nearest city

6.) Electricity and natural gas service from City Services

7.) Ample Railroad Service, passenger and freight

8.) Close to a large city. (Louisville had a population of 260,000 in 1916)

Louisville Board of Trade, headed by the Mr. Frederick M. Sackett, called for a meeting to organize a plan to get the camp built near Louisville, Kentucky. The Board of Trade then assembled a Committee to procure a land package for the camp, which was proposed to be built on farmland located south of the city.

President of the Louisville Board of Trade,, Mr. Frederick M. Sackett (c. 1918)

President of the Louisville Board of Trade,, Mr. Frederick M. Sackett (c. 1918)

The City of Louisville, as well as two other cities in Kentucky, and four cities in Indiana, were competing for this huge construction project.

The Louisville Board of Trade first offered the War Department’s Commission, a site of 400 acres, which was presented through their representative in congress, the Hon. Swagar Sherley.

Congressman Joseph Swager Sherley 1903-1919

Congressman Joseph Swager Sherley (1903-1919)

But the Board of Directors were notified 10 days later, that the site would need to be much larger. At least 5 to 6 times larger. The Louisville Committee then reassembled and were able to obtain an additional 1230 acres to add to the previous 400.

The Louisville Committee met with the Army’s Commission on two more occasions, where upon they acquired more land, and were able offer their complete package on May 24, 1917. They proposed four reservations. Those sites comprised of “The Main Camp” (1495 acres) , “The Maneuver Field” (1270 acres),  “The Remount Station”  (81 acres) , and “The Rifle Range” (530 acres). See the map below for those sites.

An additional 16,000 acres for an Artillery Range at West Point, Kentucky was added, which made the total acreage for Camp Zachary Taylor – 19,376 acres (30.27 square miles).

The (4) Reservations of Camp Zachary Taylor (1917)

The (4) Reservations of Camp Zachary Taylor (1917)

The proposed land package was offered to the United States Government, rent free, for a period of two years. If the lease was renewed after that period of time, then they would have an option to lease the 19,376 acres for $10,000.00 per year, for a period of three additional years.

The army only used the campsite for four years. When the hostilities ended in November of 1918, and the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, all construction stopped. Another conditions of the lease stipulated that when the army vacated the land, any pre-existing buildings on the property were to be left in their present condition. All utilities including electric and telephone lines, water and sewer services were to remain and would then become property of the landowner.

Most of the buildings were dismantled. Several farmhouses and homesteads existed on the property before the camp was built. Many of them were used by the army for officers residences or officer’s clubs. Some have survived, and are still standing today.

Mulberry Hill, Clark Family Log House and Homestead.

Mulberry Hill, Clark Family Log House and Homestead.

The Clark Homestead in George Rogers Clark Park, known as Mulberry Hill, was one of a few building that did not survive. Their condition at the time was poor. The two Story log homestead had already been taken down to one small section, and was converted to a barn. What remained of the log home and outbuildings were removed sometime after 1919, when the land was later sold at auction.

Mulberry Hill - Clark Family Homestead partially demolished and turned into a barn (foreground in picture)

Mulberry Hill – Clark Family Homestead partially demolished and turned into a barn (behind tree in picture)

The land where the Main Camp was constructed, was considered to be prime farm land. Referred to as “Truck or Market Gardens”, the land was used primarily for growing corn and vegetables. The site consisted of three separate plateaus, which the army saw suitable for three separate Brigades.

Camp Taylor Barracks shown being built next to summer crops.

Camp Taylor Barracks shown being built alongside summer crops. June 25th 1917

The drainage was excellent, and several creeks fed directly to Beargrass Creek, which emptied into the Ohio River. Some work was preformed on the drainage system to straighten out the creeks, and build bridges over the streams.

One report stated that the part of the Main Camp had formerly been a brick clay pit. The soil had been excavated and removed to a depth of a few feet. A tile drainage system had to be installed at this location to assist in the drainage. Several drainage ditches that traversed under barracks were also tiled and run underground.

Camp Taylor Barracks under Construction. July 1917

Camp Taylor Barracks under Construction. July 1917

Southern Railway had a main line that ran directly through the center of the purposed site. Their vice-president, Mr. R.L. McKellar, made assurances that Southern Railway would provide ample freight services at the site.

They also agreed to provide the requisite sidetracks and accommodations as needed. The Southern Railways tracks also had direct connections to the Pennsylvania System, Baltimore & Ohio system, The Monon Railroad, Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, The New York Central Lines, The Louisville & Nashvillle Railroad and the Henderson and St. Louis Railroad.

This central location, and unprecedented access to rail lines, was essential to the Boards proposal. The Committee noted that the site was midway North and South, and midway East and West of the Commissions search area for the Mid-West. Based on this centralized location, and Louisville’s ability to fulfill every condition set forth by the War Department, the agreement was made to select Louisville as the site of the Cantonment that would later be named “Camp Zachary Taylor”


copyright 2016, Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society