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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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