Excursion 8, Part 4 (Depot Man)

In which our intrepid hero unexpectedly encounters the American Dantooine…

Although I have had a lifelong interest in military history and, indeed, advanced degrees on the subject, military battlefields have never interested me much.  I’ve been to a number of Civil War battlefields, for example. and my collective reaction has basically been “meh.”  I think the reason is because old battlefields, by the very nature of the warfare of earlier eras, were typically places where there wasn’t much of anything.  Given the linear nature of warfare  at the time, a typical battlefield might feature defensible terrain near a strategic location—unless, as at Gettysburg, the battle was an encounter battle, in which case the location might not even be significant at all.  Again, because of the nature of warfare at the time, the geography of the battlefields is also usually not that interesting.  However, military structures can be quite interesting indeed.  So when I unexpectedly came across an abandoned military base in northwestern Ohio, I was quite delighted.

[Remember that you can click on any of the images below to see a larger, better version]

What I came across, while driving along the southern shore of Lake Erie, was the Erie Ordnance Depot (also known as the Erie Proving Ground and the Erie Army Depot).  I saw a sign advertising a local business park, but the buildings in the distance looked like old military buildings (military buildings erected from the late 1800s up to World War II tend to have a distinct look).  So I pulled off the road to investigate and discovered that the incipient business park was actually being built on the figurative and literal ruins of an old Army base.

The Erie Depot (hereinafter just Depot) was originally known as the Camp Perry Proving Ground when it was opened in March 1918 to test artillery for World War I.  It soon had to change its name, as its name was quite confusingly almost identical to the adjacent Ohio National Guard facility dubbed Camp Perry (see next blog entry).   During World War II, the Depot handled some 70% of all of the mobile artillery produced by the U.S. during the war.  About half of its personnel were women who test-fired the various artillery pieces.  However, after the Korean War, the Depot wasn’t used very much and by the early 1960s there were calls for it to be closed.

The facility finally was shuttered in 1967.  By then, it was a collection of a variety of old barracks and buildings, various firing ranges of little utility, and a fair amount of environmental damage (including a lot of unexploded ordnance).  Later, there was some sort of attempt to convert part of it into something dubbed “Erie Industrial Park,” though its major occupant seemed to be ARES, a local company contracted by the military to test weapons firing.  In the 2000s, it is called the “Lake Erie Business Park.”  There are a handful of businesses there, including ARES, which still fires weapons “into the designated Lake Erie impact area.”

The website of the Lake Erie Business Park boasts of the location’s convenient location, its “excellent wind resources” (they have been trying to attract wind turbines), and has claimed that it is “business friendly,” with “agreeable neighbors, including Camp Perry, farms and a wetlands area.”  They don’t say anything about the fact that a company will be firing weapons nearby or that tenants will be surrounded by the ruins of a 100 year old military base…

When you first start driving around the area, it doesn’t look too bad.  There are trees and green grass.  The buildings, built in a style that we can call “turn of the century military barracks brick,” are less than inviting, though.  Here’s one building still available for “sale or lease.”


Many of the buildings have an indiscernible purpose, as in the below example.


Here is one old building that is currently being used, by Fenner Dunlop, “the world’s leading conveyor belt company.”  Since this is clearly not a manufacturing facility, perhaps these are local sales offices.


Many of the buildings on the site are unleaseable, for the simple reason that they are literally in ruins.  Here is one of the demolished buildings on the site.


This building still seems to be empty, but someone has put a large wire fence around it, complete with barbed wire.


More desolation in the business park.  I believe this is the foundation of what once was a large warehouse.


Flotsam and jetsam.  This too was probably once a substantial warehouse.


With detritus like the pillar-like object below, I am guessing that this is yet another former warehouse.


The below photograph is my favorite photograph from the Depot.  Here you can get a sense of its original purpose, for firing and testing weapons, without being over-reminded of its current state of ruin.


Here’s a building that now belongs to Lake Erie Rubber Recycling.


Next to it are huge piles of what I assume are some sort of rubber object, though I can’t make out the purpose.


The artillery and weapons tested at the Depot were all moved to it by rail; here is a small station building next to one of the railroad tracks.


One of the relatively few entities here is the “U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corp.”   The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps is a weird combination of the Boy Scouts and NROTC.  It is headquartered in Virginia, so this must be some local office.


When the Depot was at its most active, it had subsidiary rail lines that could bring ordnance directly to various warehouses or ranges.


The one-time water works building for the Depot.


Here you can see another one of the firing/testing ranges .  This may possibly be part of Camp Perry.


A few buildings are overgrown, though these are the exception.


This large building had some old equipment in it but I could not determine its original purpose.


The sign over the building entrance has been removed, but the danger/chlorine sign is intriguing.


A last few buildings.


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