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.

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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Until then, feel free to read my previous posts about the incredible places I explored on my Epic Rust Belt Road Trip.

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Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana


51 comments :

  1. Very interesting! I am enjoying following your explorations.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying!

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    2. My parents worked at the plant and we lived in Kingsford Heights most of our lives. I am in touch with a lot of what I call The Kingsford Heights Brat Pack. We were all close friends in our own little world. I love the pics and info. KARON RISNER GARRISON

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  2. Great article. I've always read that ammo plants and other government "war" properties are highly polluted. I've seen many converted to wildlife refuges. I think that could be good.......and bad.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. I've heard that too. I believe that's why Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay hasn't been developed. That land is probably worth a fortune, except that it's so heavily polluted from the military base. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more wildlife refuges.

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    2. I hope while in Niles you were able to see the old rail yard. Truly a neat place. It still has the old round table.

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    3. I didn't know about the rail yard, but it sounds amazing. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see it next time I'm in the area. Thank you!

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  3. Love seeing your travels - - so many places that people never hear of - - await every posting with anticipation of where you are now and what interesting place will I see today.

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    1. Thank you so much! It's great to know you're enjoying my posts.

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  4. Let's see; the government built it, but won't help clean it up. No wonder the locals are a but testy.

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    1. Former munitions plant workerAugust 2, 2017 at 3:35 PM

      The locals made a lot of money from the place while it was open, and now they want to make more money by putting it to other uses. They should certainly pay part of the cost of clean-up.

      The military has a very limited amount of money to use for cleaning up obsolete former sites like this. Every dollar they spend on cleaning up "contamination" --- most of which is minor --- is a dollar less to be spent on training troops and providing them with the necessary equipment.

      Turning sites like this into wildlife preserves makes far more sense than spending billions to provide podunk towns with speakling-clean subsidized industrial parks or subdivisions that --- history has shown, repeatedly --- will never be occupied or prduce the jobs and revenue that the development boosters enthusiastically claim (while lining their own pockets).

      Because of short-sighted clearing, clean-up and redevelopment of munitions sites like this, in 2004 the US found itself so desperately short of basic military necessities like rifle and artillery ammunition that we had to buy rifle ammo from factories all around the world, and use 45-50 year old artillery shells and propelling charges. That places American soldiers' lives at risk.

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  5. Great pics! Grew up there, was going to say Kingsford hts. was originally called Victory City. There is a lot more info in town if you decide to go back

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  6. Actually that place was polluted by the Fisher-Calo company storing nasty stuff there in rusting 55 gallon drums.
    They had a huge fire and the newscopter from Chicago came down to cover it.

    Phil? Gomez was the reporter NBC 5 IIRC and I got to ride over the site while it was engulfed and the barrels were exploding as they were taking video.

    After that the the Super Fund Federal cleanup contractors came in and dug up all the soil, incinerated it and spread it back out.

    They told me nothing would grow there for years.
    And nothing did. .....for years.

    I got to visit most of the factories that set up shop in the industrial park while I serviced office equipment.
    The walls that are standing were built so that if there was an explosion it could be contained to an isolated section and not take out the entire building.
    The biggest building in the pictures with the "tower" looking structures on top was occupied for many years by the U S Army Reserve Transportation Company until they built a new facility with an entrance near the South Jct of hwy US 6 and 35.

    Boise Cascade had a distribution warehouse there for kitchen cabinets they made.

    Th storage bunkers all in a row after row after row were later converted into mushroom farms for Campbell's soup.
    Way back in the Eastern edge of the property is a huge cannon that they fired utility poles out of to test the explosives used for projectiles.

    A fireworks company was still operating back there as recently as a couple years ago
    One person I went to high school with was there one night stealing copper wire from utility poles when he got into some that were still hot.
    He lost several front teeth in the process.
    But it didn't kill him.
    I forget his name.

    What is now a subdivision close to Hwy 35 used to be the officers housing.
    Some very nice homes in there now in private hands.
    The little berg of Kingsford Heights is what is left of some of the other housing that was built to house many of the employees.

    I flew over that area a lot and got to see buildings come and go change from the air.

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    1. Amazing. Thank you for all the great information! That chemical fire must have been incredible to witness. I'm glad things have begun to grow there again after the pollution was cleaned up.
      I'm trying to imagine all those mushrooms growing inside the rows of bunkers. It seems like a brilliant use for the buildings. It must be so interesting to fly over this area.

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    2. Thank u for the additional info.

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    3. I remember the fire as we lived between Walkerton and the plant. We had things fall off of the shelves because of the explosions. We drove up HW 6 to go to our favorite fruit stand a bit past the intersection of HW 6 and HW 35. There was a sheriff deputy that insisted we didn't go further than this as it was he said a Paint Plant and those drums contained cyanide and I quote him: "If those blow, it's going to be death for all for several miles!".

      We went home and watched the explosions in the distance (about 4 miles away from us) blowing over the top treelines through the night.

      My Grandmother was a time-keeper at the plant in the 40's and my grandpa made sandwiches -- later he opened a dixy creme donut shop in LaPorte in the 60's-70's.

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    4. Wow, Andy. That must have been incredibly exciting and scary! What a great story. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Seems like an incredibly rude place asking to hold your license and credit card while you pump gas just because they haven't seen you before. What nonsense. My wife is from LaPorte but I guarantee that if anyone treated me so disrespectfully I'd leave and find another place to get gas.

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    1. Let alone having your credit card AND your driver's license . No wonder she was dancing. Hope you checked your statement, Jim. ��

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    2. I definitely checked my statement and there has been no suspicious activity. I guess she really was just being extra careful.

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  8. I grew up in Kingsford Heights. As a kid in the 70's and 80's we used to go out there and explore. What you got pics of, the buildings werent that bad when I was a kid. They alot of times put up those no trespassing cause they done want people to get hurt. There was alot of land mines out there. We used to hear them blowing up cause animal would step on one. We were always told to stay out of there. But not many of use listened.

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    1. It sounds like you had a lot of fun there as a kid. I would have too. It must have been a real shock hearing the mines going off unexpectedly.

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    2. Former Munitions plant workerAugust 2, 2017 at 3:17 PM

      There weren't any "land mines." The Army never placed land mines around ordnance plants, then or now.

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  9. I remember back in the day I lived at kingsbury campground for 2 weeks and on 2 seperate occasions I heard a loud bang in the middle of the night. I had asked one of the rangers around there about it and they said it was probably some animal accidentally found an old landmine out there. That is why they have some areas fenced off with danger signs on them.

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    1. It's amazing that there was still so much live ammo lying around. Sounds like an exciting camping trip!

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  10. There is a Shooting Range still open to the public there, we use it from time to time. I think there is also still a banquet hall that can be rented for weddings and events.

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    1. Cheers Banquet Hall. It's for sale now and has been closed for a year or two.

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    2. There were some people at the shooting range while I was in the area. It seems like it would be a fun place to fire off a few rounds.

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    3. My husband and I go out there frequently to shoot. We also go into the preserve to fish

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  11. My grandmother worked there during the war. She was so proud to be part of the war effort. It was her first job, and then she never stopped working, switching to a hospital after the plant closed. I've been to events at the rentable Hall there, and have driven through it when near, sometimes using the public restroom at the firing range. There are areas that large toxic metal drums (semi-truck size)are buried in the ground. So my family has said they will probably never use that land for a subdivision. Eerie and sad seeing all the abandonment.

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    1. It must have been an exciting time for your grandmother and a lot of other people to be directly involved in the war effort. It's disturbing to think of those drums of chemicals sitting underground. It's only a matter of time before they rupture and empty into the water table.

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  12. when i was a kid i worked at several factories in the 70's.it would be nice if you could of found some pictures of the plant in its operating days

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  13. I grew up in Kingsford Heights and when they were in the process of fencing of the area for the game reserve, they hired several young boys to string fence and dig holes for fence posts. My older brother was one of those young boys. On several occasions, he would come home and tell us about finding unexploded shells while digging holes for fence posts. Every time they found one, they had to call in someone from the military to detonate them or collect them to detonate later. I remember hearing explosions from there on several occasions.

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    1. Sounds like a dangerous job. Your parents must have been worried about him getting hurt. But it's a good thing they fenced the area off.

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    2. I worked building those fences one year while in high school (La Porte). They gave a bunch of kids a jeep and materials, and turned us loose. We did work hard, though. We fenced off a lot of area and put up the no trespassing signs. I think the biggest concern, as I recall, was unexploded ordinance, although likely mines as well. Of course, being dumb high school kids, we took the jeep out across some of the areas we were fencing off. Never hit anything, thank goodness.

      I also worked there one summer sealing the bottom of Civil Defense drinking water cans. The large warehouses were stacked to the ceiling with 5-gallon cans. We took from one stack, sealed the cans, and created a new stack.

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    3. Jim, that must have been an exciting time for you. I'm glad you didn't have any mishaps!

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  14. Thank you for sharing this. Great job. I think you were lucky to be able to take these pictures. This would be a great history article for the SB Tribune, if allowed.

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    1. Thank you so much! I do feel very fortunate that I was able to visit Kingsbury and capture shots of it.

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  15. That gas station is all alone out in the middle of a buch of fields. People drive off without paying all the time plus it has been robbed several times. They have learned to be cautious. They have good reason for their behavior and procedure.

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  16. BRAVO ZULU aka well done. Will visit.

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  17. Worked there back in the early 80s. Ireco Chemicals, which was an explosives manufacturer. One of those concrete bunkers had all the dirt removed so it could be converted into a production facility. (I worked the docks moving finished product to and from several other bunkers.) The actual bunker was shaped like a big quanset hut. (Curved walls being most able to resist damage from bombs.) They were then covered with dirt and had grass and trees growing on them to make them difficult to see from planes. Yes, very cool area.

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    1. Thanks for the info, Tom. It's so neat to hear the many ways these old structures were repurposed after the ordnance plant was closed. I like how the trees and grass were planted on top of the bunkers. I wonder if the tree roots ever caused any structural damage.

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    2. Former munitions plant workerAugust 2, 2017 at 3:21 PM

      The arched "igloo" magazines weren't designed to resist bombs. They were designed to direct the blast of an accidental explosion upwards, to minimize the chance of damage to other magazines and anyone working in the area. The earth covering was to provide insulation --- heat is bad for ammunition, and so is repeated hot-cold cycles --- and to help contain any accidental blast and fragmentation.

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    3. Former munitions plant workerAugust 2, 2017 at 3:26 PM

      The trees weren't planted. Their roots cause damage, and in event of a brushfire they provide extra fuel that could damage the contents of the "igloos." When the plant was active, the fire department or facilities maintenance people would have cut down any trees growing within 50 yards of each igloo, and the grass would have been kept short by grazing livestock. The vents on the top rear of the igloos and in the doors to the igloos were fitted with weighted louvers that were held open by a soldered link, so that if a brushfire got close the solder would melt and the louvers would slam shut.

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  18. Back in 1963/1964 my dad worked at Jet Stream Rubber company were they made tires. On the weekends he would take a bunch of us neighborhood kids from Kingsbury over there so we could slide down the old fire escape chutes. They were curved and fun to slide on. He usually went down first to make sure it was safe. We would have to climb stairs to the second floor to use them and one time there were tires at the bottom of the chute and we would bounce back up a way. Cheap fun entertainment.

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  19. When Jim Cotton owned the industrial park, i used to go out there to a horse barn and help take care of the horses. i learned how to drive when i was 13 driving around the empty roads out there, this article brought back so many memories, thank you

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    1. Thanks for sharing your memories. It does seem like a great area to learn to drive. Not a lot of traffic there and plenty of road.

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  20. I lived in Laporte county for over 60 years and have alot of insight and information about the facility. There is a tunnel that is still in existence that runs from one end of the plant to the other - east and west. This I was in back in the 70's. we actually took a VW bug into it. Jim, if you want more info email me and I will be happy to share. neilg32degree@yahoo.com

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    1. Thank you! I didn't know about the tunnels. I wonder if they are still accessible at all. Amazing that you were able to drive a car into it!

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