On June 11, 1917, it was announced that Louisville KY was selected as one of the sixteen cities in America, where the US Army would build a new Army Training Cantonment. The City of Louisville had been competing with six other cities in the region for the Mid-West camp. It was the single largest construction project the City of Louisville had ever seen, and forever changed the city’s landscape and history.
The project increased the population of Louisville by 25% in just three months, and poured millions of dollars into the local economy, which lasted for three years. The battle to win the project began a month and a half earlier when the bidding war began.
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 construction project in Louisville’s history. The camp would house an entire Division of men numbering 47,000 men, with an initial cost of $7.2 million (approx 200 million in today’s currency) and continuing for the next three years, the Army would spend another $2 million on additional construction projects at the camp
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 (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 construction crew numbered in the thousands, with the maximum employed on August 19th, 1917 at 10,000 workers. 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 was the Carpentry Foremen at 75 cents per hour, down to the lowest, which were Messenger’s and Water Boys, at 15 cents per hour.
The first troops arrived on September 8th, 1917, and occupied the buildings while the outbuildings were being completed. The construction of the camp was completed on November 23, 1917, and officially turned over to the US Army on December 1, 1917.
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 2017, Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society, Louisville KY.