ActivePaper Archive No. 1 Red River Army Depot is established - Texarkana , 6/10/2009


No. 1 Red River Army Depot is established


Photo courtesy of Red River Army Depot ¦ Red River Army Depot employees rebuild a line of transport vehicles in Building 110.


Photo courtesy of Red River Army Depot

¦ A rebuilt combat vehicle is driven to the paint shop at Red River Army Depot. The munitions depots had a twofold purpose during World War II. They would supply and manufacture arms to be shipped abroad to America’s Allies and would supply American troops if necessary.


Photo courtesy of Red River Army Depot

¦ Construction crews faced boggy conditions while building Red River Army Depot and Lone Star Ammunition. Tens of thousands of acres were purchased for $389,086 and Brown and Root crews began building the munitions depots July 15, 1941.


In the late 1930s, Texarkana wasn’t known for industry, but five Texarkana businessmen wanted to change that.

They hoped to make the city the location of the Army’s Red River Ordnance Depot and Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant.

The journey began in 1939 with Texarkana Chamber of Commerce members Robert Maxwell, a partner in Offenhauser and Co. insurance; Estil Vance of Texarkana State First National Bank; H.T. Wiegel of Texarkana National Bank; J.E. Wood of the Texarkana Water Board; and automobile dealer L.C. Cargile.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of a 10-story series on the biggest events in the history of Texarkana. Today’s story recounts the establishment of Red River Army Depot and Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant.

Led by Maxwell, the team wanted to energize the region as it worked to get back on its feet after the Great Depression.

The men had heard the government was funding defense projects; they believed the work it would generate would be great for this area.

“If we could land one of those defense projects, we could put a lot of people back to work,” Maxwell said in a 1985 interview with the Texarkana Gazette.

Maxwell said the group was willing to take anything thrown its way as long as it would put at least 100 people to work.

Maxwell and his team counted on support from U.S. Sen. Morris Sheppard, a Texarkana native who exercised enormous influence with his chairmanship on federal finance committees. Sheppard had contacted Maxwell about the ammunitions projects and directed the group to the people they needed to meet to get the ball rolling.

While in Washington, Maxwell and his team contacted Secretary of War Henry L. Stimpson; Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall; Air Corps Col. Hap Arnold, a native of Atlanta, Texas; and Col. Francis Miles, overseer of the Army Munitions Board. The chamber delegates said Miles was only “mildly interested” in their proposal.

Sheppard used his influence to sway Miles into action, and the Army Munitions Board eventually requested further information from the chamber on features of the Texarkana area. For nearly two years, the men in Texarkana sent photos of almost everything in the area, including studies of geography, natural gas and the availability of electrical power. Miles made several excursions to Texarkana to look at land in Cass County, Texas, and Little River County, Ark., and to gather more information about Bowie County.

During the decision-making process of where to build the plants, Sheppard, died.

Shortly after his death, Minden, La., celebrated the announcement of an ammunition depot.

Although things looked bad for Texarkana, Maxwell said he encouraged the chamber not to give up because he believed the Minden deal was not the same as the 40,000-acre deal he and others had seen on a map belonging to Miles.

However, many in Texarkana took Minden’s announcement to mean Louisiana was awarded the deal instead of Bowie County, and days of disappointment followed.

The disappointment was replaced with rejoicing several days later when an announcement came in over the news wires that the Army had set aside $45.5 million to build Lone Star Ammunition. The plans called for a plant that would produce 100,000 shells each day. The components would be manufactured elsewhere and assembled in Bowie County.

A few weeks later, it was announced that Red River Army Depot would also be built on land in Bowie County. People in Northeast Texas now began looking forward to better times.

By now, World War II had erupted in Europe. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Cabinet had already warned that America might become involved in the war in Europe if there were requests for help. Secret Service agents had also warned the president that there may be an attack on the U.S. mainland.

The sudden interest in constructing munitions depots had a twofold purpose. They would supply and manufacture arms to be shipped abroad to America’s Allies and would supply American troops if necessary.

Construction of the Pentagon also began during this spate of military readiness.

Contracts were made, construction on the plants began and local property prices skyrocketed.

Land in Bowie County that sold for $5 an acre in 1939 went for 10 times as much in 1941.

A Texarkana Gazette article written at the time described the land sales as “madness” and that property owners had “found the Promised Land.”

The government had other ideas about the value of the land and offered its version, which worked out to be an average of $27.83 per acre.

Tens of thousands of acres were purchased for $389,086 for the two facilities. A construction contract was awarded to Brown and Root on June 21, 1941, and the company began work on July 15.

Maxwell and his group’s ambition opened the door for Red River Army Depot and Lone Star Army Ammunition to create a far-reaching impact well outside Texarkana for nearly seven decades.

The importance of one of Texarkana’s largest employers reverberated through the region in 1995 and again in 2005, when the outfits faced closure. Rallies to save the installations filled the summer of 2005. A town hall-style meeting called for the citizens’ support.

“You are our community team ... you have a job to do. You are our secret weapon,” said Mayor Horace Shipp of Texarkana, Ark.

Shipp recalled the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission fight and win in his speech.

“In 2005 we are on it again and we’re going to win again,” he said, urging solidarity.

Local banks pledged thousands of dollars to assist in the fight.

In the end, the commission decided to keep Red River Army Depot open but close Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, which is now privatized and contracts with the Army.

Red River Army Depot, along with its tenants and contractors, has gone from providing a few hundred jobs initially to about 6,000 jobs today, with peak years providing more than 10,000 jobs.

This, in turn, has created a continued need for other industry in and around Texarkana.