More Images of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works — The Huge WWII Gunpowder Plant Near Memphis

photo courtesy William Burke / DuPont

In the November issue of Memphis magazine, I tell the interesting story of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works — known to most folks around here as "the old powder plant" — a massive gunpowder factory operated by the U.S. Army during World War II. The complex sprawled over 6,000 acres north of Memphis, just outside of Millington.

Although the plant was dismantled after the war, if you know just where to look (mostly along the wonderfully named Shake Rag Road), you can still find traces of the old plant — most notably the giant smokestacks from the plant's huge electrical generating station.

William Burke, fire chief for the present-day DuPont plant near Woodstock, north of Memphis, discovered these never-seen-before (by most people, anyway) photos showing the plant under construction, in the company archives in Delaware. One image shows the miles of railroad tracks that were laid down to bring construction materials to the site, and later to transport railroad cars packed with gunpowder and TNT away from the place. Not the best place to work, I'd say, if you were the nervous type.

I'm grateful to Bill for sharing these terrific imaged with me (and you). Enjoy!


Reader Comments:
Nov 26, 2013 04:19 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Vance: Re the "Powder Plant", I wrote a paper for The Egyptians entitled "The Chickasaw Ordnance Works: The Memphis Connection to World War II", which is published in the 2002-2003 yearbook. This is available from the Memphis room at the main library. My father, Dr. Nicholas Gotten and Dr. Sam Raines, purchased approximately 1000 acres after the war when the plant was decommissioned and other than the portion bought by BFI years ago, it is still in the family. My paper traces the origination of the plant by DuPont and its conversion into a military facility for producing smokeless powder. Perhaps you may find my account interesting, and, yes, the smokestacks are still there. The pictures you show help orient where the production and railroad spur were as the whole plant area consisted of over 10,000 acres. It has a very interesting history and was vital to the war effort both before and after the U.S. entered the war. William M. Gotten

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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