The Daniel Boone Bridge had been completed in 1936, providing residents with access to St. Louis County; Highway 94, then called Marthasville Road, had been graveled; and access to the Missouri River and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, known to many as the Katy, brought an exchange of people and products to and from New Orleans and beyond.
Lower Hamburg had a landing, a saloon, a grocery store and a small hotel. And, on the south side of Highway 94 was the Friedens German/English Evangelical Cemetery, the final resting place of the town's settlers and forefathers.
All that changed on Oct. 11, 1940, when a headline in a St. Louis newspaper announced, "War Department Needs 18,000 Acres for TNT Plant."
It appeared that the 279 families in those three small communities were about to lose their homes and their land through eminent domain.
Two weeks later the residents received letters from the U.S. War Department saying they would receive just compensation for their land, which would be purchased at "fair market value." They were reminded, however, that condemnation proceedings would be used, if necessary.
The government had plans to begin construction of a TNT plant in 45 days, a year before the United States officially entered World War II.
A group of families, the Mades family included, moved to Defiance. At first, because it all happened so quickly, his dad rented rooms, then a year later, he found a house in Holstein with 3 acres where the family lived during the war.
Mades' dad was in the building business and had been working on Central Grade School in the Francis Howell School District when news of the displacement came. The building was finished but the students had not yet moved in. As it turned out, the school was used as government headquarters. Also, Highway 94 was "sealed," with gates at both ends, so no one could get near the TNT plant, which was officially called the Weldon Spring Ordnance Works, operated by the Atlas Powder Company, for the U.S. War Department.
"If you needed to get in to visit a graveyard, you were escorted in," Mades recalled, the same being true if someone was to be buried next to a spouse.
But ultimately, because this was part of the war effort, most people did not object too strenuously.
Donald K. Muschany, who had been valedictorian of the 1934 graduating class of Francis Howell High School, and an upperclassman of Mades, wrote a book on the incident, called "The Rape of Howell, Toonerville and Hamburg."
Daniel T. Brown, Ph.D., retired superintendent of the Francis Howell School District, recently wrote a book called "Small Glories," a history of the district from 1684 to 1966.
With historical data he collected and many long conversations with Mades, he included information on the TNT incident in his book.
He described the many lawsuits that were filed by landowners who, in the media, were denigrated by consistently being referred to as "farmers." In fact, they were merchants and builders, business owners and morticians, doctors and dressmakers, well diggers, mechanics and attorneys.
Of the 149 families that were not reimbursed for their property, 29 accepted a meager condemnation price and 120 took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
One of the entries in Brown's book, taken from the St. Charles Daily Cosmos-Monitor, told of the death of J.W. Miller, a prosperous farmer and the first board president of Consolidated School District No. 2 of St. Charles County. A local philanthropist, Miller had donated the site for the district's Miller School.
"He died suddenly on April 11, 1944, landless and heartbroken, never having received any compensation for his land from the government," the article said.
On Feb. 5, 1945, four years and four months after the case saw its beginning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the dispossessed landowners, although it was still many months before they received their money from the government.
By then, the TNT plant had already closed its doors, an event that took place in January, 1944.
The TNT Plant
One of the original government posters hangs in the Interpretive Center on Highway 94, a Department of Energy (D.O.E.) museum, built after the war, and dedicated to the TNT and uranium plants built in the area. It states in part:
"Weldon Spring Ordnance Works Needs Men and Women Production Workers." The starting rate was $1 per hour, 75 cents for laborers, for a 48-hour week with time and a half over 40 hours.
Among other incentives, transportation could be arranged; there were rotating shifts, healthful working conditions and cafeteria service. For those participating in the Share the Ride Plan, there were gas and tire incentives. No experience was needed as there was on-the-job training and excellent chances for advancement, according to the poster.
Interested persons were reminded that they were needed by our fighters to help produce TNT. They were to apply at the U.S. Employment Service at 365 W. Fourth St. in Washington, Sullivan City Hall or the Weldon Spring Employment Office every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon.
In all, 5,000 people were hired, many of them coming over the Daniel Boone bridge from St. Louis.
"They built many small buildings at the site so if there was an explosion, everything wasn't lost," Mades said. In all the cost of the plant was $67 million.
Most of the homes and other buildings on the land were leveled, although a few were kept as residences. The government created a community called Weldon Spring Heights for private Army officers who supervised the TNT plant.
"These were lovely homes on several acres each," Mades said, noting that his parents' home was left standing and was only torn down about 20 years ago.
In all, nearly two-thirds of the land was never touched for the TNT production. As Brown quoted in his book, "It was fine agricultural land and it could once again be used for honest farming. Maybe, some speculated, just maybe, the (original landowners) could get their land back."
That, however, never happened because the homeowners were too far down the list of "persons and institutions having priority." In reality, they never even had a chance to make a bid on it. Some considered that the final act of betrayal.
The government released 12,000 acres to the Farm Credit Administration for agricultural purposes. Of that, according to the St. Charles Daily Banner-News, "6,000 acres were too badly contaminated for disposal and would likely be fenced off due to the high cost of decontamination."
The Missouri State Conservation Commission exercised its priority in April 1947 to purchase the land. According to an account in Brown's book, that was made possible, in part, by a $70,000 gift from Mrs. Alice E. Busch in memory of her late husband, the late August A. Busch.
In May 1947, the University of Missouri exercised its option on the balance of the land, which was to be used for four agricultural research projects - beef cattle breeding, soil conservation, forestry and fertilizer tests.
"In truth, the government practically gave the land to the University of Missouri," Mades said. That was verified by a quote in Brown's book that said, "The land will be acquired without cost to the state, since the university is a recognized research agency . . ."
In 1978 the university sold its land to the Missouri Department of Conservation and it became the Weldon Spring Conservation Area. The university just kept Research Park, off Highway 40.
From 1957 to 1966 a portion of the area was used as a uranium refinery and after much furor in the area about hazardous waste left behind, the barrels and other debris were deeply buried under a "mountain" of protective materials and gravel. The Francis Howell School District measures toxicity levels monthly.
Mades has photos of life in Hamburg as he was growing up, but that - plus his memories - are all that remain.
Nostalgia seemed to overtake him as he recalled that his great-grandpa, George Mades, helped to plat the town of Hamburg in 1834.
He remembered many wonderful times - sitting in his dad's Model "T" Ford truck as a child, as the elder Mades drove down Marthasville Road, hauling creek gravel to make roads; watching the town grow and seeing silent movies in the hall on the second floor of the IGA store.
Mades saw lightning hit the steeple of the Evangelical Church and watched it burn to the ground. He remembered the thrill of going to the Riverview Dance Hall on his property which, in large part, his dad built for local celebrity Ralph Sutton so he could entertain people from far and wide with his piano music.
Mades said it was quite amazing how many celebrities the small area produced:
* Ralph Sutton, who played with Bob Crosby and Fats Domino and met the queen of England, even had his photograph taken with her;
* John E. Schneider, Mades' great-grandfather who gained notoriety nationwide for his amazingly intricate woven coverlets, some of which now hang in the St. Louis Art Museum;
* Theodore Yahn, a salesman with the Pappendick Bakery in St. Louis, who invented the bread-slicing machine;
* Archie Bowman, the last man killed in World War I. A statue of him has been erected in the Thomas Howell Cemetery on Highway 94.
Life in Washington
After serving in World War II, Mades married Delphine Engemann and the two settled in Washington.
Mades' parents, who had never really adjusted to life in Defiance or Holstein, moved to be near their son. They were getting older and knew they would need more assistance as time went on. Theodore passed away in 1967; Leona, in 1975.
Mades meets once a year with the descendants of those who lost everything to the TNT plant in 1940. "We meet for dinner at the D.O.E. museum," he said, noting that their most recent reunion was held June 10. "We bring old photos and talk about what happened. It was a time we'll never forget."
Brown said it was a thrill to work with Mades, who he considers the last one left who clearly remembers the incident.
"In a sense (writing about it) brought it all back to life so it won't be forgotten," Brown said. "Many people were considered dead and gone. Now they're dead and still here."
Mades just smiled and nodded his head. "Yes," he said sadly. "Yes."