(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


Minutes Of The Landowners Meeting of April 12, 1941

     At this particular time when there seemed no place to turn, it was necessary for the landowners to again unite and face the issues of condemnation of their land. The following are minutes taken at the meeting held on April 12, 1941:


     Saturday night, April 12, at the Weldon Spring Church Hall, Congressman Clarence Cannon and several interested attorneys, at the invitation of the Landowners Committee, spoke to a troubled audience of American citizens, made refugees by their own government. Every seat in the hall was occupied, with those unable to gain entrance standing at the open doors and windows waiting for the word of encouragement that might come from their duly elected representative or counsel from the attorneys present.
     Dr. O. L. Snyder, Chairman of the committee, called the meeting too order. The writer could not help but notice the lack of quality and feeling in the voices of the group as they opened the meeting with the singing of America—a lack of quality and feeling attributable only to depressed spirits and heavy hearts; for, has any group a greater claim for love of country than the descendants of the pioneers that shed their blood at Boone’s, Howell’s, Kountz’s, Zumwalt’s, Castlio’s or Calloway’s forts that this area may forever be American and, if it so pleases their homes?
     Yes, in this group of refugees are descendants of those pioneers who not only settled this area before it was American soil but who defended it later as America. Reverend Edward Drews, the local minister, asked forgiveness for those who willfully harm and exhorted those present to put away selfish desires for love of your fellow man.
     The Chairman, in his introductory remarks, reviewed events up to the time of the meeting. “Your homes were optioned to the Government by its duly appointed representative, R. Newton McDowell. That option agreement was accepted by the officer in charge of land acquisition for the War Department and became a binding contract. The government has exercised the right of this agreement by taking possession, causing you to have to move from your homes on short notice even though it meant in many cases inconvenience and the sacrifice of personal property.”
     Many of your homes have beer burned, your lands have been converted into parking lots, railroad and road right of ways, sites for buildings, etc. Those of you with more modern homes have seen them taken over by strangers, workmen in the area. In some cases alterations were made; water was piped into the homes for their convenience in the name of National Defense. Flowers and shrubs have been removed and your homes in no way are representative of the condition as when you vacated. Roads have been closed; you have been denied ingress and have been told—‘this is Government Property and under the control of the War Department.’
     Also, over 120 former owners have been paid under the same agreement as we hold, but now the War Department through the Justice Department has brought, or plans to bring, condemnation proceedings against the approximate 150 former owners that remain unpaid. The advice of the committee to you is to employ an attorney to represent your interests. That is the purpose of the meeting.”
     Mr. Sam Watson, attorney, and one of the former owners directly affected briefly outlined a condemnation case. “The suits filed are filed in the name of the United States of America accompanied by a Declaration of Taking.” (This point was particularly questioned later by a former owner with the comment, “Why is it necessary to file a Declaration of Taking when the property owned has been fenced in by the government, a guard stands at the gate with a gun and I cannot get in to see it?”) The opinion prevails that the government already has possession through pre-existing contracts. Mr. Watson indicated that the former owners would have to employ counsel to file an answer to the petition filed by the government on or before the return date. This answer to be filed might contend for the validity of contract. If this be denied by the Court, then on a contest of the amount to be received the Court would have to appoint a commission to view the property and make an appraisal. In this event, a true appraisal would be impossible as buildings have been burned and the property has been materially changed as result of such occupancy. Mr. Watson was of the opinion that the contract held was legal and binding and would finally be so decided. However, he said both sides have the right to make exceptions to the appraisal and appeal which may require a considerable time for a final decision.
     The Honorable Clarence Cannon was introduced to the group as one vitally interested in their problem and as one who was making every effort in Washington to right what he called an outrageous treatment of the people’s rights. He advised the citizens that no one in St. Charles County, not even the representatives of these people who were in Washington, were aware that this TNT plant was to be located in their midst prior to the announcement carried by the press. He further advised that the Government could, through its right of eminent domain, acquire property for defense plants, by due process of law either through negotiation and agreement on price or by condemnation. The War Department elected to negotiate and through its agent entered into an agreement and binding contract for the property. The price given must have been fair or the people would not have signed the options and the officials of the War Department accepted and approved them.
     The following telegram calmed the citizen’s apprehension of Mr. R. Newton McDowell’s organization:
STIMSON, SEC’Y OF WAR                                                  WASHINGTON, D.C.
     Mr. Cannon stated that the Government was satisfied with the proceedings; it had occupied the land under the terms of its contract and was paying the owners the amount of their option. At this point, a pressure group, through threat of investigation and charges that exorbitant prices had been paid for the land, caused the War and Justice Departments to discontinue payments on the option agreements and to consider condemnation. A further proof of this underhanded effort is contained in the following letter now in the possession of the committee representing the former land owners.
     “I was informed more than three months ago that a pressure group, made up of St. Charles and St. Louis men, was doing its utmost to upset the program to buy the TNT site at Weldon Springs and pay a fair price for it. In fact, I was urged to join the group and try and get the St. Louis Newspapers to stir up an investigation.
     I am convinced that Senator Clark publicly criticised the prices being paid only after he had been given false information. I am quite sure that if you write him, giving him the facts, and urge him to insist that the option prices be paid, he would render great assistance.
     The pressure group encouraged persons to write members of Congress, urging an investigation on the grounds that excessive prices were being paid for the land, and that the farmers had been induced to demand exorbitant prices.
     The whole undertaking was pictured as a huge venture in graft and that the Government was being robbed in a conspiracy. Backing the demand were a few men with axes to grind, who, believing that if the original plan to purchase the land were abandoned, pressure group members could pick up some easy money.
     Every one I meet feels that the farmers have been outraged, and I am confident that if you and the men assisting you give Senator Clark and Mr. Cannon the facts, justice will yet be done.”
     Later, in a discussion of this pressure group, several former owners volunteered to make a contribution to a fund to be used to expose this group.
     Mr. Cannon further stated that the House Military Affairs Committee was surprised that these conditions relative to the government’s refusal to pay did exist and were unanimous in their support of the citizens rights under their contracts. While before this Committee, the War Department was on the defensive. The Department of Justice lawyers made such an unsatisfactory showing that the Committee asked for additional evidence. The War Department did not deny the validity of the contracts and contended only that the land descriptions were faulty. It is interesting to note that no farmer has ever ploughed his neighbors field thinking it was his own through the lack of sufficient description of his property to identify the land. This is all that is required by our Missouri Statutes.
     Mr. Cannon is of the opinion that the option agreements are legal and binding and this is the first time in his thirty years in Washington (twenty years as our representative) that he has known the government of the United States to welsh on its word.
     Congressman Cannon’s talk was followed by a number of pertinent questions. One former owner wished to know how the Justice Department arrived at the amount it considered a fair price and deposited in the Court with its declaration of taking?

     Some of the deposits are as follows:
                      House and Lot in Howell                                           $2000.00
                      One half-acre lot in Howell, unimproved                        200.00
                      House and eight acres in Howell                                    500.00
                      One well-improved 160-acre farm near Howell           7000.00
                      (The house alone cost more than the amount deposited.)

     Another former owner wished to know how the government could condemn property to which the deed was already recorded in the name of the United States of America. It seems that thirty some deeds were actually recorded in the name of the Government without payment having been made. The recording of deeds is legal evidence of the transfer of title.
     The question was raised as to why our President did not at least acknowledge the petition recently sent to him in respect to this matter. Was not the welfare of these citizens of any concern to him at all? This discussion raised the question of whether or not the War and Justice Department were actually usurping the power delegated to the representatives of the people through the vote of the majority of the citizens.
     At this point, Mr. Cannon explained the status of the Army in relation to our form of government. Our army is a professional group who make this work their vocation. In West Point they are trained to give orders and see that orders are carried out. After an order is given, they go forward in its execution as in the charge of the Light Brigade in the Battle of Balaklava. This, he said, explains the action of Brig. General Brehon Somerwell and other army officers involved in this affair.
     Mr. William R. Gentry, attorney, in a short discussion of the facts involved suggested that possibly, in the light of the great injustice and disregard for civil rights and the due process of law that had been committed, our President as Commander in Chief, or Mr. Henry L. Stimson as Secretary of War, would pass the word down the line to the Generals that in the interest of complete justice payment to these citizens should be made as agreed in the contract. This statement brought forth the loudest and longest applause of the evening.
     Upon invitation by the Chairman to address the group, Mr. William Waye and former Circuit Judge, B. J. Dyer, attorneys, admonished the group that it was facing court action and must consider the retaining of counsel. Mr. Ruffner Watson, a former owner, also spoke of the need for immediate action and the necessity of putting up a determined fight to prove the validity of their contracts.
     The Judges of the St. Charles County Court and the County Clerk were introduced. Several of the citizens raised questions relative to the possession and use of the County roads in the TNT area. Although no definite information could be given as to payment for the roads, the Court advised the group that they had assurance from officials of the War Department that the roads would not be closed to any of the local citizens wishing to use these roads on business. Judge Dyer questioned the Court as to whether they followed his advice in the road matter. The Court admitted they did not follow his advice but were following the lead set by the State Highway Commission.
     They further invited any local citizens finding difficulty in using these roads to register their complaint through the Court and that proper action would be taken.
     All former land owners wishing to join in a group to employ counsel are asked to meet again Tuesday night, April 15 in the Weldon Spring Church Hall for a further discussion.
     A meeting was held on April 15, 1941, and a decision was reached by mutual consent of all unpaid landowners that they would fight one or all condemnation proceedings. Lawyers were appointed and the legal fight was on.

             St. Louis Star-Times—April 16, 1941
     Assistant City Counselor Makes Proposal to Owners—
     Asks 7½ Per Cent Fee

     Samuel M. Watson, special assistant city counselor of St. Louis who expects to be replaced as a result of the change in city administrations, appeared last night before a meeting of owners of land on the site of the government TNT plant near Weldon Springs and offered to defend condemnation suits at a fee of 7½ per cent on the net amount obtained by the landowners.
     No action was taken at the meeting, which was held in the Weldon Springs Church Hall, but many of the 125 in attendance crowded around Watson, asking where they could get in touch with him.
     The appearance of Watson, who told a reporter he owns a one-eighth interest in a fifty-seven-acre tract of the land involved, followed the reading by Dr. O. L. Snyder, retired physician and chairman of the meeting of a proposed contract drawn up by a committee of five, including Dr. Snyder, after they had interviewed three other attorneys.
     Under the contract, the three attorneys—William R. Gentry of St. Louis and B. H. Dyer and William Waye, Jr., of St. Charles—would represent the group of landowners as a whole for a fee of 7½ percent of the amount paid for the land, plus an additional 2½ per cent if the cases were carried to the appellate or supreme court.

McDowell Telegram.
     After the proposed contract had been read, Osmond Henssler, a St. Charles attorney, read a telegram from R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City contractor who negotiated for the government the original options on the land. The options later were set aside in favor of condemnation proceedings.
     In his telegram, McDowell advised the landowners to employ individual attorneys.
     ‘I think you should go to a specialist,’ said Henssler, who also is one of the landowners. ‘Now I know one. Sam Watson, one of the best condemnation attorneys in St. Louis.’
     Watson, as special assistant city counselor, handles condemnation proceedings for St. Louis.
     Discussion followed in the audience as to whether attorneys should be hired to represent the group as a whole, or whether each landowner should employ his own counsel.
     ‘The big fight now,’ one man said, ‘is to make the government comply with the options. The condemnation suits are each individual’s own fight, but the options are for all of us.’

Watson is Outside.
     Henssler again urged that each landowner employ his own counsel.
     ‘I think Sam Watson is outside,’ he added.
     ‘Do you think he could be persuaded to come in?’ someone in the audience asked.
     ‘Well, I think he might,’ Henssler replied.
     Watson came in.
     Then for a half hour he outlined the technical details of carrying a case to the supreme court. He expressed the opinion a test case would come only on appeal to a higher court.
     When one of the landowners asked if he would state his fee, he said:
     ‘It is 7½ per cent of the net amount you get, no matter how far I have to take the case.’
     Asked if he had a legal force large enough to handle the cases, Watson replied, ‘I believe I could arrange it.’
     Then Dr. Snyder asked, ‘Will the audience excuse us while we consult with Mr. Watson?’

Smaller Fee.
     Watson and the committee retired for fifteen minutes and when they came back Watson said:
     ‘In the event the government does not press all the cases, and in those cases in which I do no more than file an answer to a suit, 1 would charge only 4 per cent.’
     When asked by members of the audience, Watson expressed a willingness to enter into a contract with anyone who wanted his services.
     Then Dr Snyder said:
     ‘There’s one thing I want to make clear, Sam Watson didn’t come here for a job tonight. He’s a landholder himself.’

$4,500 a Year.
     Later, talking with the reporter, Watson was asked, ‘This will be better than $4,500 a year for you, won’t it?’
     ‘I should hope so,’ he replied. ‘I saw this coming for a long time, so I didn’t get all tied up with a lot of suits. I’ve already got $150,000 in option suits to handle.’
     Asked if he had been requested by the new city administration to resign from the city counselor’s office, he said he had not, but added, ‘I expect to be going pretty soon, though.”

St. Louis Star-Times—June 24, 1941

Government Had Expected to Pay Only $1,000,000—
Appraisals Re-Examined

     With the federal government re-examining appraisals on the land it is buying in St. Charles County for its new TNT-DNT plant near Weldon Springs, following complaints that they were too high, it was revealed today that the total price for the 268 parcels in the 16,000-acre tract, under government option, is $2,593,277.
     The figure was given to the Star-Times by O. H. Ewald, in charge of the St. Charles office of the Kansas City Title Co., which is proving titles to the land for the government.
     To the $2,593,277, Ewald said, must be added between $300,000 and $400,000 which must be paid to the Ajax Pipe Line Co. of Oklahoma for removal of its natural gas line which runs across the TNT plant site. The government still is negotiating with the pipe line company and a definite figure has not been established.
     Originally, the government had estimated it would cost only $1,000,000 to obtain the plant site, total assessed valuation of which is about $350,000. As revealed yesterday, $1,073,802 already has been paid for 6,729 acres and nineteen town lots.

Payments Held Up.
     Further payments have been held up pending a government study of new appraisals by agents of the Department of Justice and the War Department. The original appraisals under which the $1,073,802 has been paid out were made by R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City contractor acting as agent for the government in the acquisition of the property.
     An examination of records in the St. Charles County recorder of deeds and collector’s offices shows on the land already acquired numerous payments running into several thousand dollars each.
     One five-acre tract, which was assessed in June, 1939, at $120, was sold to the government for $15,000 by Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore Rallo, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Rallo, Mr. & Mrs. John Russo and Ben Margiotta, all of St. Charles County. Since the land was assessed for tax purposes, several improvements have been made on it.
     Assessor Henry F. Oelze of St. Charles County said assessed valuations usually are 50 to 60 per cent of the amount a piece of property will bring on the market.
     Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rogers of St. Louis, the records show, received $24,122 for 16.9 acres which were assessed at $4,800 for 1939 tax purposes.
     Mr. and Mrs. O. P. Hampton of St. Charles County received $4,462 for fifty-nine acres assessed at $490, and John LaBlond of St. Louis got $8,100 for eight acres assessed at $1,000.
     The records show Mr. and Mrs. Edward Linnenbringer, St. Charles County farmers, received $34,000 for a 160-acre tract which was assessed at $6,260. According to Oelze, this was the highest assessed valuation for any single tract.

Capitalist Got $62,054.
     As was disclosed yesterday, Birch O. Mahaffey, St. Louis capitalist, received $62,054 for several tracts totaling 305 acres. Payment of 325 other acres owned by Mahaffey are among those held up.
     Among other landowners and the payments for their land, as recorded at St. Charles, are:

Mr. and Mrs. Irving P. Roth and Mrs. Adeline Roth, St. Charles County, $12,600 for 88.5 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Osmund Haenssler, St. Charles County, $5,287 for 33 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. John L. Tiedemann, St. Charles County, $16,115 for 54.6 acres.
Ernest J. Loeffert, St. Charles County, $6,880 for 42.5 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. J. Clemens Schneider, St. Charles County, $11,365 for 91.2 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. J. Clemens Schneider and Caroline Utlaut, St. Charles County, $8,839 for 73.6 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Julius L. Zeller, St. Charles County, $5,325 for 10 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Sinock, St. Charles County, $19,170 for 101 acres.
Conrad H. Hielentrop, St. Charles County, $21,949 for 176.8 acres.
Mary Wentker, St. Charles County, $9,500 for 112.2 acres.
Edgar W. Hill, St. Charles County, $5,350 for 34.7 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles G. Gross, St. Charles County, $13,072 for ten acres.
Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Andrews, St. Charles County, $12,000 for a town lot.
Mr. and Mrs. Oscar W. Schierbaum, St. Charles County, $8,107 for 64.8 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas R. Zeyen, St. Charles County, $7,850 for two acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Walter E. Post, St. Charles County, $10,662 for 56.4 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Fridley, St. Charles County, $5,750 for .87 of an acre.
Mrs. Jennie Paul, St. Charles County, $17,696 for 85.8 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Muschany, St. Charles County, $7,500 for 67.2 acres.
Seid-Wackher & Co., St. Charles County, $14,850 for half an acre.
Cornelius Schulte, St. Charles County, $7,610 for 80 acres.
Samuel M. Watson, Jr., and Agnes W. Watson, St. Charles County, $15,251 for 122 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. W. Bryan Coffman, St. Charles County, $15,500 for 115.9 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Haward W. Carrico, St. Charles County, $7,284 for 5.913 acres.
George P. Peters, St. Charles County, $12,825 for 127.5 acres.
Matthew Schiebendrein, St. Charles County, $19,000 for 69 acres assessed at $1,450.
John W. Miller, St. Charles County, $14,400 for the 32.5-acre Lauer’s Island in the Missouri River.
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Berghaus, St. Charles County, $9,962 for 142 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bitting, St. Louis, $29,414 for 231 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. John Kuhn, St. Charles County, $8,805 for 144 acres.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch—June 30, 1941

Samuel M. Watson Tells House Group Fair Re-appraisal Is Now Impossible Due to Chaos.

     Samuel M. Watson. St. Louis lawyer representing 45 landowners in St. Charles County who have not been paid for land taken in the site for the TNT plant there, today told a House subcommittee that the War Department should dismiss condemnation suits and send a disbursing officer out to pay the option price in full.
     Even under questioning by Chairman R. Ewing Thomason who suggested that ‘unconscionable prices’ had been allowed under original options. Watson insisted that the Government should go through with its bargain.
     ‘Of course, if there were fraud and collusion then the contracts should be repudiated but unless this were shown I think the payments fixed in the options should be gone through with,’ Watson said.

Farm Buildings Burned.
     The witness startled committee members by describing how farm buildings, including dwellings, were set afire and burned to the ground, before condemnation suits were filed. He described one farm near the village of Howell on which a four-room house, barn, chicken house and other buildings were burned. One owner, Watson said, left a valuable camera in his house in the haste of departure and before he could go back to get it the house had been destroyed by fire.
     ‘I couldn’t see any reason for burning the buildings,’ Watson said, when asked if there had not been possibility of selling the buildings intact or the material they contained. ‘They are selling other buildings now,’ Watson added.
     Defending the prices fixed in options by R. Newton McDowell, who had a contract from the War Department to buy the land, Watson stressed its accessibility to St. Louis. He painted an idyllic picture of the St. Louis business man motoring out to his St. Charles County farm after office hours to look over his crops and livestock. This commuting possibility had increased the value of the land, he said.

‘Fair Appraisal Impossible Now.’
     It is not possible now to accurately reappraise the land, Watson told the committee which is a sub-committee of the House Military Affairs Committee. The whole area was so disturbed, Watson said, that no fair idea could be obtained of what the land had been like.
     ‘The prices fixed in the declaration of taking in the condemnation suits are very, very low, in comparison with the original option prices,’ Watson testified. ‘In some cases it was a tenth, in others it was a fifth. I know of one case in which the original amount was paid.’
     The condemnation suits are still pending. Testimony by Government witnesses has been postponed until the suits are heard. Watson said they had been put off until fall.
     ‘We don’t seem to have any luck in hurrying up these trials,’ Thomason remarked, ‘so that justice can be done to both the Government and the landowners.’
     Watson was followed on the stand by Dr. O. L. Snyder, a retired physician, who is chairman of a committee of unpaid landowners. He described special improvements made on his property and his indignation when a representative of the Fraser-Brace Engineering Co., the contractor, moved him out, moved in a family across the road and started a boarding house.
     ‘I was mighty mad when I found that out,’ Snyder said.
     Thomason and other committee members suggested that one way out for the landowners still unpaid—about 120—was to hurry the condemnation suits so that the court could pass on the validity of the contracts. Thomason suggested an appeal be made to the Department of Justice to assign a special judge for the case.

Valued at $30,000; Offered $7000.
     In his brief appearance following Watson, Dr. Snyder testified that he had put a value of $30,000 on his property, $10,000 on the house and the balance on the land. The government had offered him $7000 in condemnation, he said.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch

U. S. Attorney Says Offered Prices Exceed Value of Property

WASHINGTON, July 2 (1941)
     Federal District Attorney Harry C. Blanton of St. Louis told a congressional committee today he intended to attack validity of land options in connection with the Weldon Springs, Mo. TNT plant on the ground there was a gross disparity between actual value of the property and the offered prices.
     ‘I expect to allege as one of the grounds of attack on the validity of options involved in condemnation cases now before the court, the gross disparity between the actual value of the tracts and the option value,’ Blanton testified before a House Military Affairs Subcommittee investigating purchase of the plant site.
     He was asked by a member of the committee if one test suit could not be brought to determine if fraud existed and all other condemnation suits in the area be decided accordingly.
     ‘Each case must stand on its own feet on the matter of values,’ he replied. ‘But several test cases might suffice to determine the validity of the options.’
     Chairman Thomason (Dem.), Texas, inquired whether Blanton believed some option prices, fixed by R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City, were not excessive.
     ‘Grossly excessive,’ Blanton said.
     (Options to the 18,000-acre tract were obtained by McDowell. After about half of them had been exercised. the War Department investigated complaints the prices were excessive. It later cancelled options where landowners had not been paid and filed condemnation suits.)
     Blanton said 150 Weldon Springs condemnation suits already had been filed. But the docket was so crowded, he told the committee, the suits would not reach trial before September or October.
     Approximately 600 condemnation suits involving various Missouri projects, some four years old, were pending in Missouri Federal Courts, he said.
     Blanton declared there was need for an additional Judge in the Eastern District of Missouri, proposed in legislation passed by the House and now before a Senate committee.
     John Carmody, War Department zone real estate agent, was asked by committee members if he had made any statements to land owners that they had better settle on his terms or they would be tied up in court action for several years. He denied he made such statements.
     The hearing was recessed until next week.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Concedes Land Was Not of Poorest, But Asserts Its Strategic Location Was Paramount.

Deplores Waste But Says Army Was Under Constant Compulsion of Speed.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (1941)
     Because the land was of ‘paramount’ strategic value, the War Department was justified in acquiring the site at Weldon Spring, Mo., for a TNT plant, even though this meant ‘a tremendous disturbance to civil life,’ a House committee reported here today.
     ‘There can be no question but that the land used was far from the poorest,’ said the report, ‘that a tremendous disturbance to civil life was necessary—a disturbance aggravated by the fact that the lands were largely settled by old families, many of whom had owned their farms for generations. But the strategic value of the land was rightly considered paramount and the land was taken.
     This is the conclusion of the subcommittee of the House Military Affairs Committee appointed to investigate real estate and construction in the defense program. Under the chairmanship of Representative R. Ewing Thomason, of Texas, the committee held hearings for several days into Weldon Spring, listening to a number of witnesses from Missouri.

Tends to Justify Army Heads.
     While the report speaks of the ‘staggering’ cost of building camps and munition plants, deploring the lack of advance planning, it tends in general to justify army authorities, who were under the constant compulsion of speed. In this respect the findings of the House committee differ sharply from the report made public last week by Senator Harry S. Truman, chairman of a Senate committee to investigate defense expenditures.
     The House report defends cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts by comparing the prices paid by the Government with those paid by private firms under similar contract, declaring that ‘the average profits made by contractors under this great expansion program were less than one-third the average profits made by the same contractors on their nongovernmental work.’
     The Truman Committee report, denouncing this type of contract, said it has cost the Government millions of dollars.
     It was under a cost-plus-5 per cent fee that R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City contractor, acquired the Weldon Spring site. No direct mention of McDowell by name is made in the report. Reviewing the difficulties involved in acquiring land through condemnation, the report said:
     ‘In the beginning the department attempted to minimize these many hardships by engaging brokers to negotiate the sales; it was found that, although this method did in fact eliminate many of the objections, it did not furnish proper safeguards as to price; in other words. the only way possible in which all of the land in a given area could be acquired voluntarily was to pay, in the long run, whatever prices were asked, and experience indicated that these were so unreasonable as to be completely out of the question.

Higher Than Market Price.
     ‘A typical example of this was found at Weldon Spring, Mo., where, when the real estate division of the Quartermaster’s Corps was reorganized in February, it was discovered that the prices being paid appeared to be higher than the normal market value. For this reason and because of the refusal of the broker involved to attempt to renegotiate the contracts, payments were suspended, even though a part had been made, and condemnation proceedings instituted.
     Hardships resulted to the farmers in the area who had not been paid; suffering and loss of money were inevitable. Charges and recriminations were frequent, and the committee went into the matter in some detail. The attitude of the War Department was summed up in testimony by the statement that it was a question of the lesser of two evils—whether to go ahead and complete the payment of prices which were unquestionably high, thereby affording opportunity for justifiable criticism, or to suspend the payments, at the risk of causing suffering and hardship, and let the courts pass upon the duties and obligations of the department under the circumstances.
     ‘The latter course was decided upon and the matter still rests with the courts; testimony of the United States District Attorney indicated the possibility that it may well be years before final decision is had. Certain things were accomplished by the hearings, however; the Government agreed to liberalize its procedure to an unusual extent, to stipulate as to certain jurisdictional questions, and to facilitate the procedure for drawing down portions of the amounts deposited in court. Because of the pendency of legal action. the committee could accomplish no more.’”

(September 29, 1941)

     Without benefit of photographers, visiting dignitaries or speeches, the $35,000,000 Weldon Spring TNT plant will go into production this morning—the first major defense-born project in the St. Louis area to reach that goal.
     Only seven men will conduct the hazardous operation of running a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acid through nitrators and a network of overhead pipes between various buildings in the first of 14 productions lines to reach completion.
After the entire line has been tested for leaks and the tightness of connections, toluene (a Hydro-carbon) will be introduced for a series of treatments by the acid mixture, which eventually produces a brown sugar-like substance known to chemists as trinitrotoluene (TNT).

     It is understood that the first TNT from the huge plant, which sprawls over about 18,000 acres of St. Charles County, will come off the line before the end of this week. It will be used for bombs and large shells.
     Crowds and fanfare have been barred from the testing operations because of the danger involved, Maj. Carl R. Dutton, army chemist and commanding ordnance officer, explained yesterday.
     The remaining five TNT and two DNT (dinitrotoluene, an explosive used as a base for smokeless powder) lines in the first area of the Weldon Spring plant all will be completed by the end of December, Maj. Dutton said, with six more TNT production lines in the second area scheduled for completion next April or May.
     The air over the plant area has been declared a restricted zone by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, and commercial or private planes have been forbidden to cross it. Airlines coming into St. Louis from the West and Southwest, which formerly flew over Weldon Spring, now pass over St. Peters, to the northeast of the plant.
     It is understood the order was motivated as much by fear of the result of a crash in the highly explosive area as by a desire to prevent aerial snooping.

     The plant site was announced October 22, 1940, and construction started about 10 months ago, gathering speed last March. Starting out as a $14,000,000 project, the plant was ordered expanded in June, with work now just beginning on the second area.
     The munitions mill transformed a peaceful farming community—once the home of Daniel Boone—into a hurry-up link in the nation’s arms program. About 200 families had to move when the War Department picked the site, and many vacated property that had never been out of the family.
     Fences have been built around 3 cemeteries within the plant area, many of them family plots with gravestones bearing dates of well more than a century ago. One section was an Indian burial ground.
     A House committee investigating the choice of a site conceded the land picked was ‘far from the poorest,’ and that it meant ‘a tremendous disturbance to civil life,’ but found the grounds were of ‘paramount strategic value,’ and that the War Department was justified in acquiring them.

     Included in the plant area—which is surrounded by a wire fence 7 feet high and topped with three strands of barbed wire—are the sites of three former small towns, 26 miles of government-built railroad track, 50 to 60 miles of roads with a total of 80 to be built, and 30 miles of underground water and sewer pipes. not yet completed.
     Precautions against sabotage, accidental explosions and the possibility of armed attack are elaborate.
     Refusing to specify what measures had been taken, Maj. Dutton said anti-sabotage preparations were ‘very great and all-inclusive.’ The 7-foot fence alone is an effective barrier. Workers from one section will not even be permitted to enter other branches of the plant.
     A force of civilian guards has been employed and workers must carry identification cards. An ultra short-wave radio station makes it possible for the automobiles used by guards, equipped with two-way radio, to keep in constant touch with post headquarters.
     The powder magazines and production lines are built at a great distance from each other, so an accidental explosion from one would not affect others.
     Three fire trucks at the plant are equipped to fight either building fires or those in the undergrowth and trees, much of which has been left standing to take advantage of natural camouflage. Each truck carries equipment to pump water from streams or wells and has other regulation fire department equipment.
     When finally completed, the plant will not only be one of the largest of its kind but one of the best camouflaged, both from land and air. The natural topography of the land and such aids as trees and large bushes have been utilized to the fullest to make the different buildings invisible.
     ‘The entire plant was designed on a basis that it can be completely camouflaged,’ Maj. Dutton said. ‘In time the only thing one will be able to see around here from the air are a few water towers and in case of an emergency they wouldn’t have to be there as a pressure system could be used.’
     Vital buildings were erected along hillsides and the powder will be stored in dirt-covered cement igloos, completely invisible from above and as innocent looking as a common storm cellar close up.
     Three huge treated water storage tanks—of 2,500,000-gallon capacity each—are underground and will be completely covered with sod.

     Five deep wells on the reservation have a daily production capacity of more than 17,000,000 gallons, compared to the 14,250,000 gallons used daily by St. Louis County, with 273,533 residents. The water is passed through a purification system operated by health department standards.
     The heavily guarded main gate opens on U. S. Highway 61 about 30 miles northwest of St. Louis, but none of the buildings fall within view of the passerby. About all he sees is the ominous-looking wire fence running for miles a short distance back from the highway.
     Once the plant is in full operation, about 2400 workers will be employed. Maj. Dutton said that a chemical process like the one at Weldon Spring ‘practically runs itself.’
     Materials used to date in the construction of the plant, with 7800 building workers employed last week, include: Lumber, 6,531,605 board feet; structural steel, 1,500 tons; reinforcing steel, 1000 tons; concrete, 40,037 cubic yards; rock, 296,970 tons; process pipe for steam, acid and air lines, 132,000 feet; fencing, 163,200 feet.
     This will be the second major explosives plant to start production in the last week. A $51,000,000 ordnance works at Joliet, Ill. opened Friday. The plant will be operated by the Atlas Powder Company, and its capacity is regarded as a military secret.”

     I believe Lilian Hays Oliver in her book, Crows Nest, has captured the sentiment, the feeling of the area and I wish to quote her before you approach the legal aspect. I knew the Castlio Family extremely well. Their home was just across the road from my home.
     “In 1864, Dr. Newton Castlio built one of the first houses in Mechanicsville (Howell), a twelve-room, two-story frame house for four families. There was a front and back apartment upstairs and down, each consisting of a large room with a smaller one on each side. Two outside stairs led to the second floor apartments. A large chimney in the center of the building was the outlet for a fireplace in each of the four large rooms.
     In 1879, Dr. Castlio and his wife moved from the farm to this residence where they lived until their deaths.
     From 1901 until 1940 this rambling old house was the home of Calvin Castlio, his wife Alice Stewart Castlio, and their daughters - Ivo (Babe), Verna (Kit), and Vasta (Doll).
     In 1940 when everyone had to move from Howell’s Prairie because the Government wanted the land for the Weldon Spring Ordnance Plant, Calvin Castlio, a great-grandson of John Castlio and of Francis Howell, was the last resident to leave the area. During the eighty-four years that he had lived in or near Mechanicsville (Howell) his roots had penetrated deep into the soil. Now he was forced to leave the house that had been his home for forty years. The house where he expected to spend the rest of his life. He was a typical Castlio. A man of few words. One who hid his emotions. Doll, who with her husband, Linton McCormick, and their two children, Calvin Montgomery (Chappie) and Beverly Jean, lived with her parents, said that during the summer of 1941, her father sat for hours on the front porch or in the shade in the front yard, staring straight ahead, an unlighted pipe in his mouth.
     One by one the neighbors moved away, Friendly lights no longer gleamed from the windows. Each evening dusk enveloped the deserted houses in what had so recently been the tiny village of Howell. Howell was always quiet, but about dusk on summer evenings one could hear cars passing, children laughing and playing, someone practising on a piano, dogs barking, horses stamping to rid themselves of flies, cow bells tinkling, pigs squealing. Now a killdeer. A whippoorwil. Cicadas. Katydids. Crickets. Night birds and insects undisturbed by the exodus.
     One day Doll stood on the back porch and watched the house of a life-long neighbor, Mr. John Dixon, burn. Then the lower barn of her father. All she could do was watch, knowing that soon their house, too, would probably be destroyed in the same way.
     Many families who moved from the area left their cats behind, thinking, I suppose, that they had enough trouble without moving a cat. All summer Doll and Beverly Jean fed as many as twenty or thirty cats—until the sanitary crew put out poison. Chappie and Beverly Jean were permitted to keep a cat and a dog in the yard, but their parents had to dispose of all chickens, cows, and horses long before they moved from the area.
     In July. 1941, Karl Muschany assisted by a foreman of the area and two other TNT employees, according to government regulations, loaded the possessions of the two families into the truck, which was not permitted to go up the New Melle road, the nearest route to New Melle and the big store room which was to be their living quarters, the only place available, but it and the family car had to go out the main entrance where guards checked them out.
     Can you imagine the feeling of Calvin Castlio as he walked the last time out of the house that had been his father’s and then his home for so many years and as he “----fondly looked his last, And took a long farewell?”
     No need to close the doors and windows this time. Down the brick walk. Out the gate. Then down the familiar Marthasville Road. Vacant houses. Some bearing the sign, ‘Government Property. Keep Out.’ Heavy trucks rumbling by stirred up such clouds of dust that he could hardly see the farm lands once cultivated by the children, grandchildren, great-grand-children, and great-great-grandchildren of Francis Howell. Then the car carrying the last of Francis Howell’s descendants from Howell’s Prairie passed through the main entrance of the Ordnance Plant and over the crest of a hill.

     The end of life came to many broken-hearted people due to the hardship caused by the U. S. Government. Judge for yourself.
     The following news article is accurate. I knew the Bacon family well.
TNT Site Owner Succumbed to Worry, Widow Asserts

     Othaniel Bacon, 82-year-old Howell, Mo., man, who optioned his home to the government for inclusion in the TNT plant site and later was forced by poverty to live in a one-room basement, died Monday as a result, his widow said, of grief and worry over the War Department’s holding up payment of the $2,000 sale price.
     Bacon wrote many protests to Washington after the War Department ordered purchase options on land for the plant held up when investigation disclosed many prices were ‘grossly excessive.’
     Mrs. Bacon said yesterday they vacated their home on signing of the options and paid $50 down to buy a new home. When their government check was not forthcoming, she declared they had to move to a basement where ‘he aged years in just a few short months.’
     ‘He was bedfast three months,’ Mrs. Bacon said. ‘Many times at night I could hear him crying from worry and disappointment.’
     She said $40 of the $50 down payment was recovered, but most of it went to a lawyer for obtaining it. Bacon throughout life was a cripple, due to a knee injury suffered when he was 2 years old, she said.
     ‘The $2000 option money was paid into court pending condemnation proceedings,’ she asserted. ‘The price was agreeable to us and the government both, but the court wouldn’t release it.’
     TNT plant officials yesterday granted special permission for Bacon to be buried Thursday in Francis Howell Cemetery, within the plant area, but decreed only relatives could attend and only after obtaining passes.
     An attending physician said Bacon’s death was due to worry and infirmities.”

     Unaware of the anguish and frustration of the displaced families of the area, the TNT plant construction proceeded at a rapid pace. Buying land at a fair price was a consideration at one point, but during construction, no expense was spared.

             St. Louis Globe Democrat
(August 12, 1941)

     An inner fence nearly 10 miles in extent is being erected around the manufacturing area of the $31,325,000 Weldon Spring ordnance plant, Mar. Carl R. Dutton, commanding officer, said yesterday. The fence, of the chain-link type, will be 7 feet high and 51,080 feet long.
     A similar fence already has been erected along United States Highway 61. Uniformed civilian guards will patrol the area in 50 radio-equipped squad cars. A radio station was completed last week.
     Major Dutton said Alf Erickson, general manager of the plant, of Wilmington, Del., and other executives have arrived, preparatory to beginning production of TNT and DNT next month. The plant is to be operated by the Atlas Powder Company of Wilmington.’

     Work on the Weldon Spring ordnance plant is proceeding rapidly with 59 of the 123 buildings required for the six dynamite production lines under roof, and about half of the needed 12,000 feet of narrow gauge railroad track already constructed, it was announced by the Office of the Constructing Quartermaster yesterday. The track will be used to carry ingredients in the process of manufacture to each successive building.
     The TNT lines have been planned in pairs. Each will have 17 buildings and serving each pair of lines will be a packhouse, where the finished explosive is placed in wooden boxes, a power house, and a dry powder storage house. In addition there will be a repair house, change house, line office and lunch room for each two lines.
     Five of the seven 200,000-gallon toluene tanks have been completed and roofs have been built on the remaining two. Four of the 27 heavy steel tanks used for storage of anhydrous ammonia, one of the ingredients of nitric acid, required in the manufacture of TNT, were unloaded yesterday.
     Some of the 15 staff residences are expected to be ready for occupancy June 1.”

     The Military Affairs Committee made a full investigation and as reported by the Associated Press under the dateline of June 23, 1942, had this to say:

     A finding that there was no ‘direct evidence’ to support reports that ‘exaggerated prices’ were provided for in options on land for the army’s Weldon Spring ordnance plant near St. Louis was submitted to the House today.
     The Military Affairs Committee stated that the War Department had suspended payments under the options and instituted condemnation proceedings because it felt that prices for the land appeared to be higher than the normal market value.
     ‘The order for the discontinuance of the payments,’ said the committee, ‘resulted from comments of individuals and the press to the effect that exaggerated prices had been provided for in the options on the property. * * * So far as can be ascertained, this primarily was hearsay, without support of any direct evidence.’

     The plant site consists of approximately 17,000 acres in St. Charles County, about 14 miles from the St. Louis City Limits. Selection of the site, the committee reported, resulted from efforts by George C. Smith, in charge of the industrial development department of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad.
     Smith was said to have contemplated the acquiring of 8300 acres, not including the towns of Howell and Hamburg, and his estimate of prices for the land was less than $50 an acre, which the committee declared was ‘not adequate.’
     ‘If he had made inquiry regarding recent sales of comparative property and especially prices which had been paid in 1933 and 1934 for right of way for Highway 61, running from Wentzville to the Missouri River, and which forms one border of the area, he could hardly have avoided realizing that such an estimate was not adequate,’ the committee reported.

     The plant area was increased, the committee said, to take in the town of Howell and Hamburg, and a contract entered into with R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City, Mo., constituting him the department’s agent. Dated October 23, 1940, the contract was said to have provided for payment of a 5 per cent commission to McDowell on land options obtained by him and approved by the department, and designated the Kansas City Title Insurance Company to furnish title certificates.
     The option form provided, said the committee, that in addition to the 5 per cent commission which the optionee was to pay McDowell out of the proceeds of sale of his land, he was also to pay 1½ per cent to the title company.
     The committee said McDowell’s Kansas City residence ‘formed the basis of considerable criticism, as did the selection of the title company, which was done without the formality of asking for bids, as provided in regulations of the War Department.’
     It said that as to criticism of failure of any St. Charles County title company to be selected. there was only one in the county and its ‘capacity was too limited to consider assuming such a volume of business.’
     McDowell was reported to have obtained 266 options which averaged $114 an acre for property outside the towns and had an overall average of $159 an acre for the entire site. Of these, 121 were said to have been paid in full prior to discontinuance of payments on February 10, 1941, on orders of Federal District Attorney Harry C. Blanton of St. Louis.

     Condemnation proceedings then were instituted in Federal Court for the land with the exception of tracts for which settlements already had been made.
     The committee said that some land in the vicinity was condemned in 1933 and 1934, prior to the opening of Highway 61 and the Daniel Boone Bridge across the Missouri River, for prices exceeding $200 in some instances and ‘a little higher figure’ in several instances.
     ‘That being quite definitely established as of 1933-34,’ said the committee, ‘it is reasonable to suppose that as a result of condemnation proceedings today, seven years later, after the opening of the highway and the Daniel Boone Bridge, a higher figure might result from condemnation awards.’
     A summary of a report concerning a subcommittee’s investigation of land acquisition complaints included:
     Lake City ordnance plant, Independence, Mo.—Through the recommendation of the Mayor of Independence a ‘reliable real estate firm (not identified) was selected to negotiate options of land on a 2 per cent commission basis. Some 22 options covering 2618 acres were obtained. The options were not exercised and under new negotiations the government paid $60,000 in excess of the original price of the land.
     Camp Crowder, Neosho, Mo.—The committee heard testimony concerning alleged coercive means employed by government appraisers to stampede landowners into swift and ill-considered acceptance of terms. ‘Bid prices,’ it was testified, ‘were usually one-half or less than asking prices, holdouts were threatened with court action with costs that would net them an even smaller return.’ The committee said that on the other hand much of the land was purchased in the depression area, whereas owners were inclined to calculate values under inflation prices. Cases of complaints heard were referred to War Department with result the department had undertaken to renegotiate many of the cases and to revise some of the appraisals.”