Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joliet Arsenal Oral History

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, located between Elwood and Wilmington,  was created by
federal legislation transferring Joliet Army Ammunition Plant land to the Forest Service in order to create Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

The Joliet Arsenal Ammunition Plant was created when the Federal Government told landowners living in the Arsenal's footprint their land would be sold to the government in order to create the ammunition plant that would produce bombs for the Allied effort.

This 1909 Map of Florence Township documents the farms and schools that were eventually sold to the Federal Government for the purpose of creating the Joliet Arsenal.

These newspaper clippings from 1941 record how much farmers were paid by the government for their land.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a man whose family's Florence Township-farm was sold to the government for the Arsenal.  He remembers his family was told they had 30 days to leave.  He remembered attending many farm sales in the Arsenal footprint, where farmers sold farm machinery they  either no longer needed or did not want to transport.

He also remembered a self-proclaimed "lobbyist" came around telling area farmers if they would all give him 100 dollars, he would go to Washington and lobby on their behalf against the arsenal taking their farmland.  Some farmers gave the man 100 dollars, after a few days, he was never heard or seen again.

He also remembered some of his neighbors moved to Momence and Manteno.  He remembered some families moved their homes to Symerton, the only town in Florence Township.  Symerton was not in the arsenal footprint, it is about half-a mile south of the arsenal's, and now, Midewin's boundary.

Symerton, Pop. About 106

  The houses are still in Symerton to this day:

Cutting through the middle of Symerton, the Wauponsee Glacial Trail--a Forest Preserve District of Will County bike-path--lies along the former Wabash Railroad, visible on the 1909 plat:

The Wauponsee Glacial Trail runs from Joliet to Symerton.  Bike riders on the trail ride along the eastern edge of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie from Manhattan to Symerton. 

Midewin is a resource unique to Will County.  It is mentioned in many regional planning documents.  For example, a plan for the Village of Manhattan, Illinois contains many references to Midewin.