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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jan 19, 2023

When world events enter the picture, property rights of even entire towns and cities can get stepped on, or worse. Three small towns learned this the hard way when, in 1940, their land was needed for the war effort. Just press play to hear the whole thing. ------- 

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ———

In the autumn of 1940, the United States was still over a year away from entering into World War Two, but the war was already having a huge effect on the United States. For evidence of that, you only need to look at three small towns in St. Charles County—Hamburg, Howell, and Toonerville. But that’s the thing. You can’t really look at these towns anymore. That’s because in the autumn of 1940 they ceased to exist. ———

That year, the United States War Department was looking for about 18,000 acres of land on which to build a TNT plant. The land, they stipulated, had to be away from the coasts. It also needed to have access to water, rail, and roadway shipping lanes, and needed to have a nearby labor force that could quickly be hired to work in the plant. ———

By the autumn of 1940, the government had selected a tract of land in St. Charles County. But there was a problem. Three small towns sat in this tract of land—the towns of Howell, Hamburg, and Toonerville. The towns had schools and stores and various small businesses. Over 500 people called the area home. Some families could trace their roots back to folks who founded Hamburg in the 1830s. But the plant was deemed as something vital for national security. The towns would have to be torn down. ———

As these plans became public, people in the affected area at first expressed disbelief. Within months, though, most people had given up any resistance, especially as government officials promised folks that they would receive fair compensation for their land and their lost property. However, several families never received compensation and took the US Government to court. This case wound up in front of the US Supreme Court in 1945—and was ruled in favor of the past residents. ———

By the time this ruling came down, though, the TNT plant had already been shuttered. After the war, two conservation areas were carved from the tract. But some of the land was used for a uranium refinement facility that remained open until the mid-1960s. Pollution from this plant, and the old TNT plant, led to intense decontamination efforts in the area. These efforts culminated in the creation of the Weldon Spring Site, where a stone mound has been constructed to hold the contaminated waste for the next 1000 years. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of the KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe and this is eighty-eight one, KDHX St. Louis. ———