A foggy morning at the ammunition plant

A foggy morning at the ammunition plant

Camera bag? Check.

Tick repellant? Check.

Light? Check.

I set out one night with another photographer to capture the early morning scenery at the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, the largest abandonment in the United States. It’s not an easy hike into the facility, with tall grasses and vegetation overtaking what used to be manicured grasses and a flurry of activity.

What surprised me, in the year since my last trip, how little much of the complex has changed. While some of the buildings have been cleaned of their contents, and more ground has been scraped of their vegetation, there has not been a wholesale demolition that I had envisioned. Most buildings remained a testament of pre-World War II construction. Hand painted signs warn the dangers of spitting. Goodyear tires supporting frictionless carts. Brick layered buildings. Slides for emergency escapes.

This is part one of a series that will cover the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. And for this, I begin as I came into the plant, starting at the Control Circulation Dry House (Building 220), which dried the remaining solvent out of the powder before it went to the blending tower, where it would be blended with water to achieve a set burn rate. As these photographs were taken from the rear of the plant towards the front, they are not in order of production sequence – that will be detailed out in this series later.

The fog that morning was fairly heavy due to the nearby presence of the Ohio River. Most of my prior excursions into the plant were during the day, but I figured with the high heat of the summer and the ticks that cling onto dry vegetation, going in on a moist morning would be more beneficial – for my body.

The Water Dry Houses (Building 219), shown below, was where powder that arrived – containing 3% to 5% of the solvent, was aged and freed of any of the remaining solvent. The powder was soaked in water.

The Solvent Recovery Houses (Building 214), where the solvents, ether and alcohol were extracted from the black powder, lie in endless rows. There were two architectural styles, brick and concrete, but were identical in function.

The Mixer Houses (Building 208) mixed and kneaded powder. A Baker-Perkins mixer and kneading machine had a 100-gallon capacity.

The Dehy Press Houses (Building 202) pressed the cake of nitrocellulose into a powder form.

The Scrap Rework House (Building 209-2) contained several dozen wooden barrels, presumably containing black powder.

The Ether-Mix House (Building 206-3) was where ether was mixed.

One of the new features that is being worked on for later this fall, is a large scale map of the ammunition plant showcasing all of the buildings and their respective functions, along with a process diagram – how black powder was developed.

This is part one in a series on the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

10Comments

  • New photographs added / 9 August 2011 9:17

    [...] ago, I set out before sunrise and hiked into the largest abandonment in the United States, the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. Spread over 6,000 acres, it is a sight to see from atop of Power Plant 401-2, where buildings [...]

  • tameerae / 13 August 2011 4:27

    Beautiful work!

  • Lisa / 18 August 2011 7:07

    I am a genealogist and I was getting ready to do a short blog on some unmarked postcards in my grandmother's collection of photographs. I have three that have "Charlestown, Indiana" on the front. Of the three, only one has another description: "Bag Plant". That's how I was able to find your wonderful blog and all the information on Charlestown when it was a "boomtown". My grandfather was in WWI so I'm not sure why my grandmother had these photos unless he went to Charlestown to work for a while or maybe they were given to her by another relative or friend, I have no way of knowing now.

    Your photographs are really great.

    • Sherman Cahal / 23 August 2011 4:26

      Thank you! Keep watching for more updates – plan on adding a process map and an overview map of INAAP, along with even more photos. I'd like to dig up more about Charlestown itself, pre- and post-INAAP.

    • Norma Lacy Wadley / 20 February 2013 10:38

      Lisa, I am also a genealogist. My father, John Ewing, worked at the Charlestown plant as a laborer.He was African-American. I have tried to locate employee records.He was there in 1943. Dupont has no records.Are you aware of any place where those records could be stored? Norma Lacy Wadley

  • Dan C / 2 September 2011 7:45

    Thanks! We take bike rides through parts of the ammunition plant but I love seeing these photos. I'm really looking forward to the map as it is hard to figure out what all the random buildings were used for.

  • A Year of Little Change at the Ammunition Plant | Abandoned / 8 September 2011 9:48

    [...] A foggy morning at the ammunition plant [...]

  • Edward / 30 September 2011 11:45

    Can anyone just walk around the plant or is it off limits? I would love to see all those old buildings and equipment.

  • Ron / 14 December 2011 12:42

    I have developed a historical site (http://www.charlestownpowderplant.com) based on operations of the plant when it was in use. The operating manuals were used to provide the narrative. Several aerial photos of the site in earlier days are posted. The photos here are very complimentary to the historic use photos and information. Good job, Sherman!

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