Jefferson Proving Ground

New exhibit at Heritage Center
in Madison tells story of JPG

It explores the removal
of family farms to create army post

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Report

(June 2008) – In December 1940, five towns in the Indiana counties of Jefferson, Ripley and Jennings were sacrificed by the U.S. Army to create the munitions testing facility, the Jefferson Proving Ground. More than 2,500 people were given as little as 30 days to leave their family farms, churches and schools.

Ron Grimes & Mike Moore

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Ron Grimes (left) and Mike Moore
have been instrumental in establishing
a new exhibit about the history of
the Jefferson Proving Ground.

By May 1941, the first rounds were fired, and by the time the 55,000-acre JPG closed in 1995, millions of rounds of munitions had been tested. Throughout the testing ground’s 53-year history, thousands of lives, from residents forced to exit the grounds to decades of loyal employees, were affected.
A new permanent exhibit at the Jefferson County Historical Society Heritage Center tells the entire story of the JPG. The display remembers the vanished communities and chronicles the importance of the work done at JPG for the safety of American soldiers from World War II to the Persian Gulf Conflict.
The exhibit was put together by the JPG Heritage Partnership, a nonprofit group established to help insure the full story is told about the creation, support and history of the JPG and that present and future generations are reminded of the sacrifice and contributions rendered by ordinary people in defense of the country.
“We think this is an excellent way to educate people about the history of the area,” said Mike Moore, who worked at JPG for 20 years before it shut down. A volunteer for JPG Heritage Partnership, Moore has dedicated countless hours to documenting the history of the munitions facility and has played an instrumental role in the development of the exhibit.
He said JPG Heritage Partnership had originally planned to set up its own museum, but that proved too costly. Instead, the organization decided their needs would be suited at the Heritage Center in Madison.
The organization held fundraisers and collected donations to raise the $5,000 needed to build the display and create the exhibit. Preservationist carpenter David Cart, a Jefferson County resident, built the unique display panels.
“We put together the exhibit using items found on JPG grounds,” said Moore. “Even the fencing around the display was taken from the grounds.” On one side of the exhibit is a 7x16-foot photo of the 123-acre Munier farmhouse that had been built in 1853 on what is a now JPG ground. Numerous generations of Muniers had lived there, but in 1940, the government paid the family $4,450 for their farm and made them leave.
Part of the photo shows what is left of the farmhouse after 53 years of artillery firing, periodic burning and natural decay. On the ground in front of the photo is dirt from JPG laden with de-milled artillery rounds, an animal skull, pottery remains and other items recovered from the area.
“We wanted to give people a feel of the JPG,” said Moore.
On another side of the X-shaped panels is a pictorial history of the Army years at the former munitions facility. Ron Grimes, a researcher for the Jefferson County Historical Society, helped organize the photography display and the documentation for each picture.
“The JPG is an important part of our local history,” he said. “It had a tremendous impact on the lives of many people in this area.”
Joe Carr, director of the Jefferson County Historical Society Heritage Center, is pleased with the new exhibit. “We continually strive to improve our museum and change or add new exhibits that tell the history of the local area,” he said. “We are grateful for the support of the JPG Heritage Partnership.”
The Heritage Center offers visitors a permanent exhibit gallery featuring Jefferson County and Madison history, a restored 1895 railroad station, a wooden caboose, and a Children’s Education facility.
Also in the Heritage Center is a research library which makes available to researchers collections of genealogy, maps, early government records, photographs, and other materials.

• For more information about the JPG Heritage Partnership, visit: www.jpgheritage.org. For more information about the Jefferson County Historical Society Heritage Center, call (812) 265-2335 or visit: www.jchshc.org.

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