Bates & Rogers & KOP (and a little personal connection)

This was the office of the Superintendent of Loading, 2-1-28 Building, at KOP. “This Bates & Rogers structure was my place of work as a secretary from 1949 to 1960 during the Korean War,” La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz revealed. “It, along with other 2-1 Line buildings, is no longer in existence.”

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

As early as 1937, the Ordnance Department had started making studies on what to do to prepare for war. As a result, there was considerable information available when it was needed. We were not at war yet in 1940, but war was imminent. There was a need to hastily build ordnance plants, but standards on where to build them had to be developed.  

Eight major points were followed in U.S.-wide site selection. The first, and probably the most important, was “the proper location.” Kingsbury was the fourth loading plant scheduled.

On Sept. 14, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt gave his final approval for the Kingsbury plant location. Land acquisition could begin.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

The plant was initially to be known as the Union Center plant, but soon it was discovered there was no post office there. So it officially became the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant (KOP). Within two months, the Title & Abstract Corporation of South Bend had acquired 118 options on the property. Various contracts were being let, including the construction contract made Oct. 30, 1940, and approved Nov. 19, 1940, with Bates & Rogers Construction Corp. of Chicago.

Walter Alexander Rogers, with the late Onward Bates, was co-founder of the corporation in 1901. Lester Cushing Rogers, son of Walter, became president of the organization in 1937. War construction was nothing new for the company. During World War I, the company was called upon to complete one of the first big cantonments at Camp Grant in Illinois, where troops were quartered 90 days after ground was broken.

The Kingsbury plant was built on a 13,000-acre plat, 8 1/2 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide. It included:

— six main load lines and 9 accessory lines, averaging 30 buildings each

— More than 100 igloos for storing high explosives

— Shops and administration buildings

— 21 staff residences

— three power houses

— 83 miles of railroad and a classification yard

— 60 miles of paved highways

— complete water supply and sewage disposal systems reportedly sufficient to accommodate a city of 25,000 population

— many miles of power lines and more than 30 miles of fences. Concrete barrier walls in the projectile loading lines required special form work.

In areas throughout the plant, the earth-covered igloos were constructed for the purpose of safely storing high explosives. Safety chutes on buildings were never used except during drills, but were a constant reminder to all to be careful. Because of the numerous railroads and roads through the facility, the loading lines were well served. The flow of components in and out of the buildings went smoothly due to the accessibility by railroad or road.

Construction of the plant also brought about activities outside the area, such as:

— Kingsbury becoming incorporated 03 March 1941

— construction of the overpass over the Grand Trunk Railroad just north of the main entrance to the plant in early 1942

— a new Route 35 four-lane highway to La Porte

— Maple Terrace housing development

— 10th Street Elementary School (now Handley Elementary School)

— construction of the town of Kingsford Heights

— moving of a cemetery (Winchell to Kingsbury Cemetery)

— moving of the village of Tracy

And more.

Although KOP was only an active facility for a comparatively short time, it played an important role in the history of La Porte County and impacted not only the lives of many local residents, but those in surrounding counties and states from which employees came for the “good paying jobs.” The cost to put the plant in mothballs after WWII was 8 million dollars.

The plant reopened in 1949 under Civil Service for the purpose of supplying ammunition to the military for the Korean War. On Oct. 21, 1951, the American Safety Razor Company was selected to operate the plant. Buildings constructed during the Bates & Rogers era were utilized again. It was not as big an operation as during WWII, and a lot of refurbishing of previously produced ammunition was done.

The plant closed in April 1960 — not to be opened again as an ammunition production facility.

Much, if not most, of the construction of Bates & Rogers is no longer in existence. The major part of what was KOP is now Kingsbury Industrial Park (KIP) and Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area. Structures that do remain from the Bates & Rogers era are in general disrepair.  

The photo at top is of the office of the Superintendent of Loading, 2-1-28 Building. This Bates & Rogers structure was my place of work as a secretary from 1949 to 1960 during the Korean War. It, along with other 2-1 Line buildings, is no longer in existence.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is official Historian of La Porte County.

7 Responses to “Bates & Rogers & KOP (and a little personal connection)”

  1. Mike Kellems

    Dec 14. 2018

    Great history lesson as always, Fern! Thank you so much for keeping us in the loop on La Porte County’s rich history!

    What I am struck by the most, from Fern’s story, is the tremendous financial impact KOP brought… housing subdivisions, schools, bridges and highways.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Mitch Marhanka

    Dec 15. 2018

    Enjoyed this article very much. Would love to know more about
    KOP. I grew up in Kingsbury and have heard more than a few stories about KOP. I appreciate getting real facts and figures about what this place meant to our area. Thank you for sharing this article.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Lynn Lisarelli

    Dec 16. 2018

    Loved this, Fern! Thank you for your wonderful history lessons.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Karl Oestreich

    Dec 17. 2018

    My father was one of the very last employee’s to leave KOP, he was then transferred to the Wolf Lake Depot in Hammond. Thanks for a very informative article.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Tim

    Dec 17. 2018

    Something like this but maybe not to this scale is what will be needed to revitalize this area. What happened to the Intermodel project that was going there? I thought property was purchased and the county was on the hook for several million dollars for this project. Roads were upgraded and a new bridge was made over Travis ditch and nothing.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Linda L. Shortt

    Dec 17. 2018

    Fern:
    Thank you for this tremendous article! I especially enjoyed it because my sister and mother in law both worked at the “KOP” in the late ’40’s and early 50’s!!!!!

    Reply to this comment
  7. lawman

    Dec 18. 2018

    as a point of interest the munitions plant was located here because it offered the most cloud covered days in the center of country-away from hostile bombers. places on coast too easy of targets. our area only averages 77 days of clear sun per year-cloud cover due to lake effect rest of time.

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