Shumaker (Ouachita County)

Shumaker was a naval ammunition depot established in 1944 in Ouachita and Calhoun counties. After the closure of the depot in 1957, the land was declared government surplus and auctioned. The residential area constructed for the staff of the depot and their families became part of East Camden (Ouachita County). The remainder of the depot is used for various business ventures, while much of the accompanying land has been abandoned to the elements.

Early landowners in the area included Daniel Williams and Robert Delph. Williams received a land patent in the area in 1860, and Delph received one the following year. The area remained heavily forested, with some farming. The location of the land near the Ouachita River and other small streams led to regular flooding.

World War II spurred immense government investment in communities throughout the nation. By 1944, the U.S. Navy began using rockets to attack land-based targets and needed a new facility to test and manufacture new types. The navy sought an isolated plot of land that had access to transportation routes and located a potential location east of Camden (Ouachita County). The navy eventually purchased more than 68,417.82 acres in the area.

The navy selected the site for a number of reasons. The relative isolation of the area allowed the navy to work without endangering civilian populations, while the location of the site in the central United States made it difficult to attack. Even though the site was isolated, it did have access to water, power, and other utilities, including a gas line operated by the Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Company. The Ouachita River, three rail lines, and numerous state and U.S. highways gave the site unparalleled access to transportation. The Camden Army Air Field operated just to the west of the future site of the depot from 1942 to April 1944, giving the facility access to air transportation. At the time the plot was selected by the navy, 308 families lived on the land and operated mostly small-scale farms. The government filed a cause of action to condemn and take the land in the District Court of the United States, Western District of Arkansas on October 6, 1944. The families received between $20 and $50 per acre for the land. The cost for the purchase of the land totaled $1,909,197. Sources indicate that while some families wished to sell, others were forced off the land.

The navy named the facility after Captain Samuel Robert Shumaker. A 1915 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Shumaker served as the captain of the USS New Orleans in the South Pacific during the war. He received a Distinguished Service Medal for his role in developing a radio proximity fuse during the war and posthumously received the Legion of Merit for commanding the New Orleans in battle. He died on May 26, 1944, and is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Construction crews took over the closed airfield and used the facilities to begin prepping the building sites. During the construction, accommodations for 14,000 people were located at the airfield, and the peak of construction saw 20,000 employees working on the project. The three-stage construction phase began with draining areas, building roads, and assembling various facilities. Due to a compressed time frame, the navy was forced to begin all three phases at once, facing mud coming in from the swollen Ouachita River and unusually heavy rainfall.

The first production building was completed and the first rockets rolled off the assembly line on April 24, 1945, under the direction of the National Fireworks Company, which received a contract to operate the naval ordnance plant. The company operated the facility until the contract ended on December 31, 1945. Construction of many facilities at the plant ceased. The facility then reverted to the control of the navy, which converted the facility to a naval ammunition depot. With the end of the war, the facility was maintained by the navy, but no manufacturing took place.

With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, production resumed at the plant using civilian workers under naval supervision. By early 1951, about 1,800 workers were employed. On July 1, 1950, National Fireworks again took over operation of the plant and continued to manufacture and store rockets at the site. This contract ended on June 30, 1957, and the facility once again fell under the control of the navy. While some limited manufacturing continued, the focus of Shumaker turned to maintenance of the existing stockpiles of munitions.

Factors such as the end of the contract, a ceasefire in Korea, difficulty meeting new safe loading and handling procedures, and increasing use of guided missiles rather than rockets all played a role in the closure of the facility. Some reports also suggest that President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for the closure in response to the state’s handling of Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis.

Efforts to find new government tenants for the site failed, and in 1961, the General Services Administration began accepting bids for the property. When the government had begun construction of Shumaker in 1944, the landowners had been informed that, under the Surplus Property Act of 1944, they would be able to purchase the land back after it ceased to be used by the navy. This law was repealed in 1949, however, and when the facility was placed for sale, many former landowners expressed their displeasure to Governor Orval Faubus among others, ultimately to no avail.

Twenty-five bids were received for the property, with International Paper placing the highest bid and Brown Engineering placing the second-highest bid. International Paper wished only to harvest the timber on the site, so the two corporations worked together, with Brown Engineering taking control of the property while International Paper cut trees.

Brown began moving into the facility in July 1961, and an official transfer ceremony took place in November of that year. Brown created the East Camden Industrial Park on the site, which was later renamed Highland Industrial Park. Brown needed trained technicians to work in the facility and donated six buildings and about seventy-five acres of land to the state to create a technical school. Opened in 1968, the Southwest Technical Institute offered coursework for students interested in working in various industries in the industrial park as well as other fields. The institute became the second campus of the Southern Arkansas University system in 1975 and began operating as a two-year college under the name Southern Arkansas University Tech.

During the time the navy operated the complex, it included hundreds of structures to support ongoing operations and for workers to live in. Construction workers were housed at the airfield, and a housing shortage led to the construction of homes in Camden and surrounding communities. Surplus houses from Bauxite (Benton County) were brought to Bearden (Ouachita County) to house workers. Hundreds of storage bunkers were constructed to store munitions and other highly explosive materials. The navy provided housing for families of workers at the complex by constructing a development of 260 small homes. This complex formed the core of what is now East Camden. Two buildings constructed for Shumaker were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 21, 2018. The 500-man barracks and the administration building continue to be used by Southern Arkansas University Tech in the twenty-first century.

A post office in Shumaker opened in 1964 and remained in operation until 1966 when it was replaced by the East Camden Rural Station. The Shumaker name remains in use with the water department that serves the industrial park and East Camden.

For additional information:
“$60,000,000 Navy Ordnance Plant Goes to Camden.” Arkansas Gazette, September 24, 1944, p. 1.

“68,000 Acres Taken for Navy Plant.” Arkansas Gazette, October 8, 1944, p. 2.

“In the Interest of… Shumaker NAD.” Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Administration Building File, National Register and Survey Files. Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Department of Arkansas Heritage, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Ross, Charles. “History of Southwest Technical Institute,” Southern Arkansas University Tech, http://www.sautech.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/History-of-SAU-Tech-lettersize.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).

Rowe, Mary. “N.A.D. Changes the Faces of Camden: An Early History.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 16 (December 1984): 23–40.

“Shumaker N.A.D.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 25 (Summer 1994): 25–32.

“Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Administration Building.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/CA0076_nr.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).

“Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) 500-Man Barracks.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/CA0075_CA0075_nr.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 10/20/2020

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