Fridley page 57

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94 Whose Tracts Were Taken Weeks Ago Sign Plea at Solemn Weldon Springs Meeting—Copy to Go to Senator Clark.

            Descendants of pioneers who had tilled the soil of St. Charles County since the days of the American revolution, and others who settled there in later years, filled the Evangelical Church Hall at Weldon Springs last night to petition President Roosevelt, asking that they be paid now for their land which the Government took many weeks ago for the TNT plant site.
            It was an earnest gathering, undemonstrative but grimly serious. The 94 men who signed the petition sat in a front section reserved for landowners. They were plainly dressed, some in overalls, and most had the wind-whipped faces of outdoor men. In the seats behind them, and standing about the walls, were their wives and children, in all about 350 persons.
Plea to President.
            They told the President, in their petition, of the shock with which they learned last October that the Government needed their land for a munitions plant. But they had given up their homes, farms, schools and churches in a spirit of loyalty and patriotism, the petition added. They had signed options offered by an agent for the War Department; the options had been accepted for the War Department by Col. R. D. Valliant. But now the War Department had repudiated the options and was seeking to get the land at a lesser price by condemnation.
            The solemn tone of the meeting, set when they raised their voices at the start to sing “America,” was not broken by applause or laughter until near the end, when the petition had been signed and there was discussion of sending copies to others besides the President. Senator Bennett Champ Clark’s name was mentioned in this connection.
            “Wasn’t it Bennett Clark who started all this delay in the first place?” asked one of those present. The tension broke, then, and there was both laughter and applause.
            “I think he did,” replied Dr. O. L. Snyder, a retired physician who had been named chairman of a committee of five to represent the landowners in any further proceedings, “but it might be a good idea to send him one anyway, so that he will know what we are thinking about.”
Clark’s Complaint.
            Senator Clark had touched off the controversy, two months ago, with complaints to the War Department that the 5 per cent commission it allowed to its agents in obtaining the options, R. Newton McDowell, a Kansas City contractor, was excessive. He had complained, too, that excessive prices were offered in some instances. Under the options, the 16,000-acre site which the Government had expected to acquire for about $1,000,000 would cost about $3,000,000.
            But Fred C. Hollenbeck, who used to be superintendent of schools at Howell, before that community was absorbed into the TNT plant site, argued that the Government had bought more than so many acres of land. Hollenbeck, now superintendent of the newly formed Consolidated School District No. 2 west of the munitions plant site, presided when the meeting opened.
            “I know many strong men who had tears in their eyes when they left their homes here for the last time,” he said. “You people gave up the scenes of your childhood, your farms, your crops, the land your forefathers had tilled, your churches, schools, and well-kept towns. If, perhaps, the value set was more than the price of your land, those tears had to be paid for. Those other things had to be taken into consideration.”
Telegram to Cannon.
            Hollenbeck encouraged those present to believe that their darkest days had passed, because the community had friends. Here he introduced Donald Muschany, son of Morris Muschany, undertaker at New Melle, to read a telegram from Congressman Clarence Cannon. The telegram was addressed to the elder Muschany, one of the committee who had organized the meeting, but he was unable to read it because he had become hoarse in talking to so many persons while making arrangements for the meeting.
            The Congressman’s telegram said he regarded the War Department’s action in delaying payments under the options as an outrage and a violation of contract. It said he had just returned from the War Department, “and while its decision is still unfavorable,” he was working on the matter from another angle and hoped to get results.
            In their petition the landowners said many of their number had contracted new obligations after surrendering their homes and were in danger of losing their earnest money deposits because they had not been paid by the Government; that others were embarrassed financially, and some in dire need. The petition pointed out that spring planting time was rapidly approaching, and that the farmers, if not paid soon, would suffer further loss.
Chester C. Davis Quoted.
            Former Circuit Judge B. H. Dyer told the gathering of the conference he and others had with Chester C. Davis, new president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and chairman of the agricultural division of the National Defense Advisory Commission, who promised to recommend immediate payment under the options. Davis, he mentioned, had shown his interest by visiting St. Charles County yesterday and talking with many of those who attended the meeting.
            Dyer offered his opinion that the options, having been accepted by the War Department, had [?] binding contracts, which [?] enforced in the courts.
            “But it ought not to be necessary for you to resort [?] courts,” he added. “The Government ought so to deal with citizens as to be an example [?] citizens themselves.
            “I would never have believed [?] this Government of ours [?] make refugees of its people [?] that is what many of you [?] come.”
            Named with Dr. Snyder [?] committee to look after [?] owners’ interests in further proceedings were Morris Muschany; Eltin Pitman, a well driller; [?] Hackman, a farmer. and Earl Sutton, Circuit Clerk of St. Charles County.
            The petition to President Roosevelt was sent to him by mail [?] went to Congressman [?] Davis and Senators Truman and Clark.