Rare Footage of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works Ruins Near Millington

A 1960s home movie shows the ruins of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works gunpowder plant near Millington.

I've written before about the Chickasaw Ordnance Works, the old World War II gunpowder plant southwest of Millington.

Known to locals simply as "the powder plant," this sprawling facility was built by the DuPont company shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. It was designed to manufacture the new kind of smokeless gunpowder, and before it shut down after the war, it operated 24 hours a day.

Spread out over some 20 acres (maybe more), it was an awesome industrial complex, with a pair of smokestacks that were said to be the tallest ever erected in the Mid-South, underground chambers, storage ponds, and all sorts of other buildings. It was such a dangerous place to work that employees weren't even allowed to carry ballpoint pens; one click of that button on top could set off a spark that would blow up most of Shelby County. Today, though there are still plenty of smaller ruins in the woods on either side of Shake Rag Road, the soaring stacks are the most prominent reminder of the old plant.

My pal Bill Cunningham, a local historian with an astonishing collection of artifacts (cars, signs, even an original Merrymobile) has turned up a short 8mm film taken in 1959 of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works ruins. Bill tells me it was shot by his father, and that's his sister in the door of their 1957 Ford, while Bill (out of sight) slumbered in the front seat. You can view it here:

Special thanks to William R. Burke for telling me about this.

Reader Comments:
Aug 30, 2013 05:04 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Amazing! Thanks Vance and Bill.

Sep 24, 2013 11:41 am
 Posted by  Jon Crisp

I grew up in Shake Rag near Quito Road and Shelby Road in Millington in the 1970's. The "Powder Plant" was a paradise for a bunch of 8 to 11 year old boys on bicycles. It was as if we had our own city to play in. Later on ... this was designated as an EPA contaminated site due to all the war chemicals simply left laying around or buried. Thank you for this small story... it brings back great memories.
Jon Crisp
Shelby County
Chambers of Commerce Alliance

Oct 7, 2013 05:46 pm
 Posted by  Tcvff

I thought this was a great clip of hype site prior to the underbrush taking over the area...thank you Mr. Cunningham for making it available !!

William R. Burke
Fire Chief
DuPont Memphis Plant

Dec 30, 2013 09:11 pm
 Posted by  Nathan Hammontree

My grandfather worked there as a guard. It was a landmark and daily sight for most of us growing up in Shelby Forest. Chris, Wesley and Jason Ervin lived so close to it I bet they had their hides tanned a dozen times for playing over by the stacks. I know someone bought the land beside one of the storage ponds West of Shakerag Road. We stopped one day to tell them what the pond had been used for but they insisted on using it as a swimming pool. I hope none of them glow in the dark now.

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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. 

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