by Kenneth Fieth, Metropolitan Nashville Archivist.
“At long last a use has been found for those extra coat hangers that always fall to the floor,” commented Guy Redmond, Red Cross Field Director, in his plea to Nashvillians in August of 1943 to send their extra hangers to the Army Air Forces Classification Center on Thompson Lane. Some 2,500 were needed. Everything had been planned and considered: housing, hospital, mess halls, roads, sewers, and electricity. Nice new lockers, no hangers. So the call went out to wartime Nashville.
The Army Air Forces Classification Center was brand new in the summer of 1943. As early as the spring of 1942, plans had been underway to build a training center for Army Air Force cadets. The Center was an induction station where cadets were brought for preliminary training, aptitude tests, and physical examinations. They were classified according to their skills and talent and then shipped on for further training. Many became pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners in the war against Germany and Japan.
The Center eventually encompassed approximately 560 acres along Thompson Lane and Franklin Road. The close proximity of Radnor Yards and the L&N Railroad lines helped win the contract for Nashville. The City Council, in special session, passed resolutions authorizing the city to enter into contracts with the Federal Government to furnish water, electrical power, and sewer facilities for the site.
The local railroads agreed to build spur lines into the facility and Nashville Electric Service made a commitment to bring electric power into the site. To win the $5,000,000 project for Nashville, Mayor Cummings worked successfully with local contractors, businessmen, and the Federal Government. Warfield and Keeble, Foster and Creighton, and other architectural and engineering firms provided the expertise to build the complex. When completed, the complex contained hundreds of buildings, including barracks, mess halls, fire halls, warehouses, recreation halls, several theaters, and a chapel.
At its height, the Center had a staff of 200 officers and 500 enlisted personnel and was the largest of the three Army Air Force centers in operation in the United States. The Center housed, on average, 10,000 soldiers per year.
The Center operated from 1942 until 1944 as a classification center, housing WACs (Women’s Army Corps) and Army Air Corps cadets. In early 1945, the classification center was shut down and a portion of the facility served as a separation center for U.S. Navy personnel. Sailors were sent to the Center for final separation from service and were given orientation on civilian life, proper discharge papers, and transportation to their homes.
The U. S. Government continued to lease the site from the Nashville Public Housing Administration well after the war ended. Finally in 1952, the site was declared surplus and the remaining few veterans and their families were transferred to other posts.
Four local businessmen—Dewitt Carter, R. M. Crichton, A. D. Creighton, and John D. McDougall—purchased approximately 113 acres of the site for $456,000. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce led a campaign to make the site Nashville’s first planned and controlled industrial development area. Consequently, the Suburban Industrial Development Company was formed in 1953 and became known by its acronym, SIDCO. By 1954, SIDCO had plants, warehouses, and small manufacturing shops throughout the area. The buildings used during the war were razed to make way for the new development, which grew rapidly and completed its first 50-acre phase in 1959.
The Sidco area still has the plants, factories, and warehouses that were the excitement of the post-war years in Nashville. The building frenzy continued until nothing of the original Army Air Classification Center was left. Those driving by the area today will not realize that during W.W. II the region between I-65 and the Radnor railyards was home to tens of thousands of American soldiers. (2000)