In 1942, the federal government decided to build an Army base near Seymour for the purpose of training military pilots in single-engine aircraft and helicopters.
In addition to the military personnel to be stationed at the base, it was estimated that about 1,250 civilians would be needed for construction of the base and for permanent jobs on the base after its completion.
Seymour had a population of 7,500, but there were only six empty houses there in 1942. The business association in Seymour identified the availability of about 1,000 rooms in private homes. However, many of the rooms were in homes without modern conveniences.
A decision was made to build a housing project with 350 units near Freeman Field. The apartments would be for civilians and married military personnel up through the rank of captain. The project was named Ridgeview.
The base and housing were completed in 1943. A total of 4,000 pilots received their wings before the base was considered surplus in 1945. I obtained this information from articles on the internet.
When I saw the picture of one of the apartment buildings at Ridgeview, I was very excited. I had last seen the apartments in 1944, and they were exactly as I remembered them.
Now, I’ll give you some trivial information about Freeman Field and Ridgeview. The following is strictly from my memories of 72 and 73 years ago.
My dad, Glenn Dale, who was 31 years old at the time (1943), was a carpenter at George Field in Lawrence County. Another carpenter was needed at Freeman Field, and my dad took a transfer to that base.
Bags were packed, and our house on Washington Street in Bridgeport, Illinois, was rented to a married military man stationed at George Field. My dad, my mother, Evelyn Dewhirst Dale, my 3-year-old sister, Marcia, and I left in dad’s 1937 Ford for Seymour, which is 110 miles east of Bridgeport on U.S. 50. My brother, Gary, who was in the fourth grade, remained in Bridgeport with our Dewhirst grandparents.
When we went through Loogootee, my dad announced the name of the town. Marcia looked out the car window and said, “I don’t see any goaties.”
When we arrived at Ridgeview housing, we found our apartment, an end apartment as shown in the picture. It had a living room, one or two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bath. I don’t know what the rent was, but on the internet, I saw where two-room apartments were $14.50 per month.
I soon met a lot of young kids at the project. The Banning family with two kids, Jimmy, 5, and Jerry, 4, lived across the alley from us. We played together every day.
We had iceboxes in the apartment, and when the iceman came, we used to chase after him for the small chunks of ice that he would give us. Some kids held the ice in newspaper to protect their hands from the cold.
I enjoyed going to the grocery store in Seymour with my dad. I remember the wonderful aromas of the fresh produce and of the coffee being ground.
Sometimes, I went to the base with my dad, where I was allowed to sit in the trainer planes and pretend that I was a pilot. I had a great imagination.
Each workday morning, three women came to our place to ride to work with Dad. Gas was rationed, so carpooling was important.
The administration building was about 100 feet from our living room window. My mother took me there once, and I was in a room with several kids my age. There were a lot of books and games in the room. I thought it was a grand place. I learned recently from the internet that it was a kindergarten.
I went to the area in about 1990 and found that the administration building was much smaller than I remembered. It had been divided into apartments, the only apartments on the property. All of the apartment buildings had been removed. The streets and alleys were still there, so I was able to stand on the very ground where our apartment had been located.
In 1943 or 1944, a military man and his wife lived across the street from us. The woman died in childbirth, and her husband asked my mother if she would take care of his newborn daughter, Karen. I remember her being in a crib at our place for a couple of days and nights during the bereavement.
Many years later, I asked my mother about the incident, and she had no recollection of it. The last name of the family sounded like “Salyala.” I could not find that name on the list of the military personnel at Freeman Field. My spelling of the name was probably wrong. I will check death records in 1943 and 1944 when I come to Seymour in the near future to visit the Freeman Army Airfield Museum.
We went home to Bridgeport for Christmas in 1943. When we returned to Ridgeview, the icebox had been replaced with a gas-operated Servel refrigerator manufactured in Evansville.
One day, when Jimmy and Jerry Banning were at our apartment, I took a new quart bottle of milk from the refrigerator. In those days, milk was not homogenized, so the cream came to the top. I took the cap off the bottle and showed them the cream, which had adhered to the cap. I then licked the cream off the cap. The boys asked me if it tasted good. I told them it was delicious.
The next morning, Mrs. Banning came over to our place, and she was irate. She told my mother that I had put her boys up to something really bad.
In those days, milk was delivered to the front steps of the apartments. The Banning boys had gone down the street, removed the caps from the bottles, licked off the cream and replaced the caps. They got a block and a half before they were caught. I would never have thought about doing that or telling others to do that to someone else’s property.
The last memory that I will mention also concerns the Banning boys. On the foundation of the end wall of our apartment was a crawl space access door. The boys removed the door, went into the crawl space and crawled about a half-block.
Mrs. Banning sent some high school boys in to drag them out. Mrs. Banning whipped both boys soundly with a ping-pong paddle. That really scared me. There were a lot of people in the yard watching the event.
We moved back to Bridgeport in the summer of 1944. My dad had gotten a position as manager of the Capitol Theater, and I would be entering first grade in September. When we got home, our neighbor, Floyd “Cappy” Caplinger, had painted our house.
In 1954, the Banning family, who had relocated to Richmond, visited us in Bridgeport. The Banning boys and I had talked about the fun times and the not-so-fun times we had at Ridgeview. Somehow, we all grew up. Jerry became a schoolteacher, Jimmy was well-employed and I became a chemical engineer.
Arthur L. Dale used to live in Seymour in the Ridgeview apartments at Freeman Field. He now lives in Danville, Illinois. From 2002 to 2010, he wrote a column for a weekly newspaper, Bridgeport Leader. Send comments to [email protected].