The Old Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

On the outskirts of Niles, Michigan, an aging hydroelectric dam straddles the Dowagiac River. After nearly 70 years of producing electricity for the city, the turbines of Pucker Street Dam ground to a stop. The old structure will soon face demolition.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

After exploring the incredible ruins of the Kinsgsbury Ordnance Plant, I crossed into Michigan and made my way to the city of Niles. A rural road led me past sprawling farm fields and the lush clumps of forest that hug the banks of the Dowagiac River.

I stopped at a lonely intersection where an isolated two story brick building sat abandoned. Above the sagging porch roof hung a rusty sign with faded lettering that read "Groceries - Cold Meats".

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Mindful of the "Keep Out" sign on the front door, I kept a respectful distance as I snapped a few shots of the old grocery store. I was not able to find any history on this neat old place. If you have any information, please leave a comment at the end of this article.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

A few miles down the road, I came to the Pucker Street Dam. A few other cars were parked along the dirt loop that marks the small public park. Half a dozen people sat along the river bank, casting fishing lines near the base of the dam. A popular spot for salmon fishing, I was surprised the sunny weather had not drawn a larger crowd. The sloping green hillside that overlooks the dam is a perfect spot for a picnic.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

The powerhouse is sealed up and inaccessible so it was not possible to get a look at its inner workings.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Pucker Street Dam has a long history, extending back almost 200 years. In 1828 a log dam was built at the site to power a grist mill. In 1891 it was converted into a hydroelectric dam. The City of Niles purchased the property three years later.

In 1928 the log dam was replaced by the concrete hydroelectric dam, which went on to provide power to the city for 67 years. Due to costly maintenance problems Pucker Street Dam stopped producing electricity in 1995.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

A private company has expressed interest in restoring the dam to working order, but the city remains unconvinced of the economic viability of such a project.

Faced with liability concerns and the increasing cost of maintaining the old structure, the City of Niles has drawn up plans to remove Pucker Street Dam and restore the natural flow of Dowagiac River.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Habitat fragmentation is a major factor in the decision. Located about three miles from the intersection of the Dowagiac and St. Joseph Rivers, the Niles dam blocks the migratory route of many species of salmon and other fish, preventing them from populating 159 miles of the watershed.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

In addition to restoring the ecology of the Dowagiac River system and expanding the fishery, removal of the dam will open the waterway to recreational activities including kayaking, canoeing, and tubing.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Grateful for the opportunity to see Pucker Street Dam before it is demolished, I left Niles and continued my journey through the Rust Belt. Next stop: Buchanan, Michigan, home of a major abandoned industrial site.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan
Vacant building across the road from Pucker Street Dam

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Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant - An Incredible Abandoned WWII Era Ammunition Factory

Across a sprawling 13,000-acre stretch of land lies the scattered remains of a World War II era Ammunition factory. The crumbling industrial buildings and subterranean bunkers of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant punctuate grids of cracked pavement surrounded by farm fields and forestland. The gears of the wartime industry that lifted America from the Great Depression and fueled the Allied victory over the Axis have long since ground to a halt.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

After an incredible day in Gary, Indiana exploring the abandoned Palace Theater, City Methodist Church and other awesome abandoned places, I set out to see the ruins of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant.

I stopped at a gas station just outside the city of La Porte. In an icy tone, the cashier asked for my credit card and drivers license to hold while I pumped my gas. I was surprised, but shrugged it off and filled up my tank. When I came back in, she was all smiles and explained that she was being extra careful because she'd never seen me before. The other cashier asked why I was visiting La Porte of all places and then started dancing around behind the counter. We shared a laugh and I got back on the road.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

The remains of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant are spread out over a huge rural area with a small population, so I doubted I would run into anyone during my visit. I was very wrong.

Some of the old buildings have been sold to private companies.  A security guard working for a chemical company approached me to make sure I wasn't snapping photos of the plant. I assured him I was only there to look at the historic buildings and he seemed satisfied. Still I decided to leave the area so I wouldn't cause undue concern.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Navigating the old ammunition factory was challenging because there are no signs to indicate what or where anything is. I relied mostly on satellite images.

I found an area where dozens of identical bunkers lay spaced out in rows like houses in a subdivision. Grass covered the sloped roofs and trees grew atop many of them. They seemed to be empty, but I couldn't be sure. It would have taken a very long time to peek inside each of them to find out.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Some of Kingsbury's old structures were fenced off or sealed up.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Others had collapsed to little more than foundations with rows of bare concrete walls.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

I wandered around, occasionally managing to get a peek inside.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

A few buildings still contained relics left behind when the plant closed.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

As I made my way back to the car, a man in a white pickup pulled over and asked if I was parked nearby. He told me that a guy who was leasing the property had called the cops because he didn't recognize my car. 

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Police had already arrived at my car by the time I got there. I told them I was only there to take pictures of the old buildings and didn't mean to cause any trouble. Apparently I had driven past a No Trespassing sign without realizing it. After running my license and seeing that I had a clean record, the police said I was free to go. I apologized for the inconvenience and headed back out on the road.
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Needless to say, if you're thinking about exploring Kingsbury Ordnance plant, keep an eye out for No Trespassing signs. It's also be a good idea to contact local law enforcement and ask which areas are okay to explore. They will appreciate it.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

After France fell to Hitler's forces in 1940, the US began gearing up for war. The Department of War commissioned the construction of 73 ammunition manufacturing facilities across the United States.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

LaPorte County, Indiana was deemed a prime location because the land was relatively flat and had plentiful well water. It was far enough inland to avoid enemy attacks, but well positioned near highways and railroads so that product could be easily transported to the East and West coasts. The area was also far enough from any major city that an accidental explosion was unlikely to cause much harm.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Buildings were spaced apart so that if an explosion did occur, the surrounding structures would not be damaged. Fortunately, there were never any major accidents.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Two hundred and fifty families had to relocate to make room for the ordnance plant. They were given 30 days notice and paid what was deemed fair value for their land.

The government purchased a total of 13,454 acres and quickly began construction.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Workers were recruited from the surrounding areas. Many came from the city of Gary because Kingsbury offered higher wages than workers typically earned at US Steel.
To accommodate an expected 10,000 workers in a community that only had a population of 16,000, The War Department built thousands of homes, trailers and dormitories just outside the factory. The new settlement was dubbed Kingsford Heights.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

By May of 1942, employment at Kingsbury Ordnance Plant had swelled to a high of 20,785, about half of whom were women. For many it was their first job outside of the home.Inspired by Rosie the Riveter, the plant adopted "Tillie the TNT Girl" as a mascot.

Kingsbury closed at the end of World War II, but reopened in 1951 after the US entered the Korean War. It ceased operations permanently in 1959.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

A portion of the land has been converted into Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area and another segment is now Kingsbury Industrial Park.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Redevelopment of the area has been slow due to the fact that waste from the ammunition plant still exists on the land and cleanup is expensive.

Future plans include a new rail yard, the restoration of old railroad tracks and extension of existing lines. The railway will connect Kingsbury with facilities in Florida and across the Midwest, facilitating the distribution of produce and other farm goods. In March 2017, the LaPorte County government took control of the project with the hope of bringing in new developers.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

From Kingsbury, I made my way to Niles, Michigan to see an old hydroelectric dam that wouldn't be around for much longer.

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Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana