Camp Zachary Taylor

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Camp Zachary Taylor

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Was your family one of the first homeowners in Camp Taylor? Perhaps, your parents told you stories of how soliders used to march down Preston? Maybe, you remember a time before the Zoo came to Poplar Level?

We're looking for your stories, pictures, and artifacts from the Camp Taylor, Poplar Level, and Audubon Park areas to futher complete our history. If you have anything to contribute, please contact your Area Representative.

Camp Taylor History

By Grace Schneider, The Courier-Journal
Champagne corks popped. The Courier-Journal newsroom filled with Louisville's top business leaders, eagerly toasting the biggest news to hit the city in a decade:

Louisville — on June 11, 1917 — had been selected by the U. S. War Department as the site for a huge military camp. Camp Zachary Taylor was born shortly after, six miles south of town, on rolling farm land covered with cornstalks, cow pastures, barns and vegetable gardens.

It's hard to picture today, in a time of peace and distaste for the trappings of war, how news of getting a major camp was greeted in Louisville then. Something like a riotous celebration after the University of Louisville wins a basketball championship.

Everyone shared the joy, according to newspaper articles in the days after the announcement.

Business people and others saw the announcement for what it was worth -- thousands of dollars in revenue for a city of 235,000.

As time has shown, Camp Taylor forever altered the landscape of the area mostly between what is now Poplar Level Road and Preston Highway. Hastily hammered together, it became the nation's largest military training camp.

After World War I, much of the camp was dismantled. Many of the homes in the area were built with wood from the barracks, stables and other doughboy castoffs -- and were built over the concrete pads that were once used as bathrooms and showers for the camp's barracks.

The modest, mostly wood-frame, one-story homes set the tone for the neighborhood. Today, Camp Taylor is filled with clapboard homes, brick bungalows and many undiscernible former latrines.

Like a lot of young couples, Helen Allgeier Beyerle and her husband Robert patched together a home and a life, starting with their $750 latrine and 120-by-200-foot lot on Clark Street in the early '20s.

"It was nice. It was only six rooms, but I lived in it for 27 years," said Beyerle, 92, the mother of 11 children -- nine born while she lived on Clark Street.

Beyerle now lives on Taylor Avenue, in what was once the heart of the military camp.

She still remembers how people considered the camp site "country" before construction began in the summer of 1917.

The government hired 10,000 carpenters and builders. Because there weren't enough local tradesmen, workers were shipped in by train from places such as Chattanooga, Tenn. Short of housing, Uncle Sam paid to put up the men at the old Galt House at First and Main streets. One day, according to newspaper accounts, 2,000 men carrying tool satchels lined the street waiting to check in.

By late August, a complex big enough to house one-fifth of Louisville's population -- 47,500 men at one time -- had risen, stretching from the present-day grounds of Joe Creason Park southwest to Durrett Lane at Preston Highway.

Some 45.3 million feet of lumber went into building the camp. Total cost: $7.2 million.

Its headquarters were located on what's now the northwest side of the Interstate 264 interchange at Poplar Level Road, the present grounds of Taylor Memorial Park.

A popular boardwalk and amusement area attracted soldiers -- and young women hoping to meet them -- on both sides of Preston Highway near Springdale Avenue. A 53-acre hospital complex sprang up near what's now the Durrett Education Center on Preston.

Lester C. Monk, a 22-year-old farmer from Jersey County, Ill., was the first man to enter the camp. "It was just 9:03 o'clock on that September morning when this young son of democracy became a member of the camp," wrote correspondent Maurice Dunn, in a souvenir booklet printed about the camp.

Local boy John Lee Herbert, of 1717 Payne St., was third.

Their first military meal consisted of sirloin steak with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, peach roll, bread, butter and iced tea.

The inductees, who came from Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, needed good meals. Some days they woke at 3 or 4 a.m. and marched south on Preston to a rifle range near what is now the Snyder Freeway. Or they dug trenches near what is now the juncture of Crittenden Drive and the Watterson Expressway.

Altogether, more than 125,000 men were trained at Camp Zachary Taylor, "but even more were demobilized and discharged there," according to a 1959 article in The Courier-Journal Magazine. Overwhelmed with 63,000 trainees at one point, the Army erected a tent city in a triangle near what is now Belmar Drive, Preston and the old Southern Railroad tracks.

Disaster struck the 84th -- the name of the division established and stationed there -- in 1918. A flu epidemic put 13,000 men in the hospital and killed 824. People living nearby remembered seeing caskets stacked and tied on trucks leaving the grounds.

Dark days awaited the entire camp after the war ended. The government moved most of its operations to Camp Dix in New Jersey and sent the artillery to what was then called Camp Henry Knox, now Fort Knox.

After serving returning troops, the government chopped the property into parcels and sold it off during the 1920s. The $7 million investment returned $1.1 million.

Some of the soldiers, including Robert Beyerle, bought lots. And a working-class neighborhood, home to bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians, grew up there during the Depression.

A few tobacco warehouses located in the area, drawing laborers to the community.

Wrote U of L student Margery Plyler in a 1939 English paper on Camp Taylor, on file at the university's archives:

"Living conditions are generally rather poor, but they reach their lowest ebb in what is known as the 'Hospital area' -- so-called because it was here the war-camp hospital was located.

"This is supposedly where the prostitutes and hangers-on of the Camp settled at the close of the War. Here one sees an odd collection of tumble-down shacks where the only seemingly good feature is that the inhabitants are able to get plenty of fresh air."

"It was a poor neighborhood then," said Bob Vogelsburg, of Sylvan Way, who was born and raised in Camp Taylor and remembers hearing stories of the post-camp era.

Most people left school early for factory jobs or a trade, Vogelsburg, 57, said.

The community, annexed by Louisville in 1950, was close-knit, thanks to large families who settled, married among each other and stayed.

"Everybody seemed to have some other relative there," said Betty Horton, of KY 61 in Bullitt County, who organizes an annual reunion for people who grew up in Camp Taylor.

People remember good, simple times. For Horton's husband, Barney, it was sitting outside Catherine Allgeier's kitchen on "baking day" when the mouth-watering, yeasty smell of fresh bread wafted through Warren Street.

Allgeier, the mother of 12, including Fourth Ward Alderman Cyril Allgeier, would hand hot slices slathered with homemade butter out the door to a waiting throng, Betty Horton said.

Some faces have changed, Vogelsburg said, but "the community looks the same as it did when I was a kid."

And many of the old names, like Allgeier and Beyerle, are still there.

"The children," he said, "and the grandchildren stay."

DID YOU KNOW:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Taylor and mentions it in his novel "The Great Gatsby." The character Daisy Fay is from Louisville.
  • Nearly 2,000 foreign-born draftees took the oath under a tree on Lee Street. The so-called Naturalization tree was cut to a stump more than 20 years ago.
  • Wooden sewer lines served the camp, and later the community. Many people believe some of the lines are still used, but that's not true. Pipes were shoved through the lines by the late 1930s.
  • Although parts of barracks buildings that were converted into homes are difficult to recognize now, many homes with two chimneys, at opposite ends of a structure, are converted barracks latrines.
  • The camp contained 2,090 buildings, including 114 officers' quarters, 399 enlisted men's barracks, 284 stables and 12 hay sheds.

    Links

    Places in Time: Camp Taylor
    Wikipedia: Camp Taylor
    Wikipedia: Poplar Level
    US Census Analysis: Camp Taylor
    US Census Analysis: Poplar Level
    Street Map: Camp Taylor
    Street Map: Poplar Level

     

    About our association

    710905817

    Camp Zachary Taylor Neighborhood Association

    The purpose of the Camp Zachary Taylor Neighborhood Association (CZTNA) is to promote, foster and carry out programs, projects and activities designed to:

  • enhance the health, safety and welfare of the members of the Community;
  • provide a forum wherein neighborhood issues and concerns may be publicly expressed and discussed;
  • improve the economic life of the Camp Zachary Taylor area;
  • encourage a spirit of friendliness and cooperation with other groups in the Camp Zachary Taylor neighborhood and throughout Louisville/Jefferson County Metro;
  • foster cooperation and unity between property owners, tenants and others;
  • address the educational and cultural needs of the members of the community;
  • encourage improvement in municipal services through public involvement and cooperation with local government;
  • encourage, plan and coordinate the beautification, preservation, rehabilitation and revitalization of all residential and public properties, structures and physical environments;
  • seek the assistance and cooperation from governmental agencies, other neighborhood associations and potential partners to resolve neighborhood problems, achieve neighborhood objectives and goals, and to maintain and improve the quality of life for all residents of the neighborhood;
  • support other charitable, educational and cultural activities that advance the general well-being of the community and its people.
    —From CZTNA By-Laws, Article II: Purposes

    Download the CZTNA By-Laws

    CZTNA General Meetings

    CZTNA general meetings are held the first Thursday of each month at 7:00 pm*. All are welcomed to attend.
    *Meeting times and dates are subject to change. Check the latest issue of Camp Zachary Taylor Neighborhood News for our next meeting time, date and place.

    CZTNA Board Meetings
    CZTNA board meetings are held the second Thursday of each month at 7:00 pm*. All are welcomed to attend.
    *Meeting times and dates are subject to change. Check the latest issue of Camp Zachary Taylor Neighborhood News for our next meeting time, date and place.

    CZTNA Membership

    All residents, businesses, and non-resident property-owners of Camp Taylor and Poplar Level are welcomed to become members of CZTNA. Please complete the form listed in "Become A Member" to register.

    Questions?
    Please contact any Board Member listed in "Neighborhood Contacts."

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