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It was 75 years ago this summer that the Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant -- commonly called the Ravenna Arsenal -- began producing bombs and heavy artillery for our nation's World War II effort.
Production mostly ceased in the early 1970s, and in recent years most of the major structures on the 21,500-acre property have disappeared. Cleanup of the land is nearly complete.
The facility is now an Ohio National Guard facility known as Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, where military forces are prepared for the future.
Now the site is being considered for a non-nuclear interceptor missile base, which could be an economic boon to the region and would further enhance the property's usefulness and importance to the nation.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I ventured over to Warren on Route 5, which runs for several miles along the southern edge of the facility.
After the first time I drove along the miles of metal fencing which keeps the public off the land, I was eager to learn more about the site's history, and I've read a lot about it since.
Each time I pass the old plant I'm still somewhat mesmerized by the enormity of it. It was the nation's largest of 77 government-owned, contractor-operated munitions facilities, and it's story is amazing.
Two other sites are being considered for the missile base -- Fort Custer, Mich. and Fort Drum, N.Y. The Ravenna site would total about 1,200 acres, with about 900 acres cleared for installation of 70-foot deep missile silos.
The acreage being considered would be in what once was a fuze-and-booster manufacturing area -- one of four "melt / pour," seven fuze / booster and one ammonium nitrate plant sites there.
The complex would consist of underground silos for several ground-based interceptor missiles, plus equipment and control and support buildings.
The missiles are part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which uses the kinetic energy of a direct hit to destroy incoming target warheads.
Living that close to such a scary-sounding facility is a bit intimidating, but so was living close to a munitions production and storage area, and no major catastrophes happened 70-some years ago.
Although the new facility would not come close to the 15,000 jobs the ammunitions plant provided during its peak production, it is estimated it could mean 600 to 800 permanent jobs, with 1,000 or more employed during construction.
The creation of that many jobs at one location is something which doesn't happen much anymore, so it's a blessing when the opportunity arises to put that many people to work right in our backyard.
SOME ARSENAL HISTORY
The government began acquisition of properties in four townships in 1940. About 290 parcels, the largest being 1,200 acres, were bought, and 250 families were given 30 days to vacate.
The relocation process was one of the saddest periods in Portage County history, as residents left crops in the fields and farms that were in their families for decades.
It took only 10 months before some 1,200 buildings and infrastructure to support them were completed.
Among amenities were five water towers, 80 water wells, eight powerhouses, 113 miles of railway, a 19-track classification yard capability of holding 900 cars, online dormitories, a hospital, rec center, laundry and print shop.
One day in June 1941, some 28,000 area residents toured the facilities, and there was so much traffic that an estimated 72,000 could not even get there.
The ammunitions plant comprised about 14,500 acres and the ordnance storage depot was about 7,000 acres. The Atlas Powder Co. was the operations contractor. Production began in August 1941.
Hunkin-Conkey Construction, the builder of the facilities, also erected noteworthy structures such as Municipal Stadium and the Detroit-Superior Bridge in Cleveland and Briggs Stadium in Detroit.
The arsenal produced munitions for World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War. It assembled some 70 million projectiles and bombs, and the depot had more than 800 storage magazines (igloos).
The latter -- some above ground, some underground -- are still there, and because of their sturdy construction, likely will remain for decades.
HOUSING WAS IN DEMAND
With about 15,000 people working at the facility, housing was in high demand, and it was needed quickly, so the government built hundreds of units.
Among them were the Westlawn Homes neighborhood in Warren (350 units), Cottons Corners dorms for women near Ravenna (400 units), trailer camps (850 units) and East River Gardens (350 units) in Newton Falls and Maple Grove in Windham (2,000 units).
In recent years, many of the Maple Grove units have been razed and new single-family homes have replaced them.
My good Woods of Aurora friend Lois Scroggs grew up in Newton Falls and is familiar with East River Gardens on the east side of town.
I've been to "Rootin' Tootin' Newton," as she calls it, several times, but never knew exactly where East River Gardens is until recently.
Lois directed me there, and on my trip back from Warren I drove through -- just to see a bit of history. Most of the homes are still there, tightly clustered together.
As an aside, my dad worked at a sprawling site in Canton operated by E.W. Bliss and later Babcock & Wilcox, which during WW II was the Westinghouse Naval Ordnance Plant, a private munitions-producing facility.
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