These Walls: MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor Creek

Article excerpt

The vision of sugarplums that became the MidAmerica Industrial Park first came to Gene R. Redden as he settled into caretaker duties over Pryor Creek's old Oklahoma Ordinance Works.

That 15,876-acre industrial site sprang up as the nation armed itself for World War II. Starting in 1941, the government poured $84 million - equivalent to $1.29 billion in today's dollars, according to The Inflation Calculator website - into that rural northeastern Oklahoma setting to produce smokeless powder for explosives and detonators.

The complex made little Pryor Creek a sizable industrial town for a brief time, employing 10,000-plus DuPont workers (or more than twice the community's native population) under 800,000-plus square feet of roof, supported by 39 miles of new railroad spur and four complete water systems.

Redden's work came after the war's end, when the U.S. government paid National Gypsum $250,000 a year ($3.1 million today) to secure and watch over the closed complex. Although chemical residues made 153 of its buildings unsafe, the National Gypsum supervisor saw business opportunities in the other 356 structures, including three inactive chemical plants, all connected by working infrastructure.

"They were well-built," said MidAmerica General Manager Larry Williams. "I don't think it's surprising they held up so well."

As the Eisenhower Administration tackled military reductions, Redden approached Pryor-area leaders about buying and decontaminating the dusty site. Redden considered an industrial park superior to agricultural use, which he feared would result if they simply let the Department of Defense declare the property surplus. So with the help of Gov. J. Howard Edmondson, his brother U.S. Rep. Ed Edmondson, and U.S. Sens. Robert S. Kerr and A.S. Mike Monroney, Redden started work to acquire the Oklahoma Ordinance Works.

It took far longer than anticipated, as former Pryor Daily Times reporter Charles M. Cooper outlined in an article for the Chronicles of Oklahoma. To make it all legal the state had to create a new arm, the Oklahoma Ordinance Works Authority, and when John F. Kennedy transformed the White House into Camelot, Oklahoma's congressional delegation had to win the president's support anew. That led to a closed-door meeting with General Services Administration leaders, who finally offered to sell 10,046 acres of developed land for $1. …