In 2009, a book called "Alvira and the Ordnance: An American Dream Denied," from Aardvark Global Publishing, brought a bit of otherwise little-known local history to the attention of many people in (and outside of) the area.
Stephen Huddy and Paul C. Metzger's book began as a fundraiser for the Montgomery Area Historical Society and chronicles the sudden demise of a town once located just seven miles south of Williamsport in White Deer Valley. The Muncy Historical Society website summarizes it as follows:
"In the early Spring of 1942 ... within weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department seized (mostly by eminent domain), and ... destroyed the village of Alvira and its surrounding communities in order to build the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works."
There were more than 15 miles of internal railroad track within the ordnance works explored in ‘Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira, Pennsylvania.’ This photo shows tank cars in the classification yards off the Pennsylvania Railroad north of Allenwood. The tanks were used to ship sulphuric acid, oleum and other chemicals to produce TNT.
It has been four years since the release of the book and Stephen Huddy and his wife Martha have been delving even further into some of the mystery that shrouds the history of Alvira. On Sept. 30, the Huddys return with the result of over three years of hard work in the form of their new documentary "Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira, Pennsylvania."
Though the scope and medium have changed, the project still has fundraising at its core. "[The] entire project is a fundraiser for the Lycoming County Historical Society," said the Huddys, adding "every cent from this venture will go to benefit the Taber Museum."
The Huddys are both retired educators; Stephen as an English teacher and high school principal, Martha as a high school English teacher. For them the switch from print to film seemed a logical way to document a growing amount of research and information.
"We have been fortunate enough to ... expand our knowledge of Alvira and the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works story through many additional interviews, personal contacts, new photography and videography. The film is a much more expansive look at the personal struggles of the people who were summarily displaced from their property by the War Department in 1942, the construction of the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works and its rapid demise, and, significantly, what happened to the land taken following its use as a TNT factory," they said. "The film is informed by many more interviews, and by much material gathered from our investigation of this event through research at the National Archives in both Philadelphia and College Park, Md. Other essential elements of the saga have been brought to light through our Freedom of Information filings, their subsequent appeals and the volumes of information that have come to us as a result of those inquiries."
The couple added, "For those who have attended our Powerpoint sessions in support of the previous Alvira book, this film will be a brand new experience, filled with new ideas, new material, and, obviously a documentary film look. There is extraordinarily little duplication of material, and a much broader interpretation of events from both local and national perspectives, to provide an informed context for the audience."
For the Huddys, Alvira offers a different take on the idea of wartime sacrifice.
"This is a different story ... one of civilian wartime sacrifice, the nature and extent of which were enormous, and have never before been locally documented," they said. "We were drawn to the story by its human elements, and then by the machinations of the War Department in its dealing with the people whose land it was taking.
"The solemn promise by the War Department to White Deer Valley residents in 1942 at the Stone Church meetings was that they would have the opportunity to regain their land after the war, when the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works was no longer needed. That promise was betrayed for almost all owners of the 84,00 acres taken. We became very interested in the 'why's' of that broken promise, and it led us to places we never imagined."
The Huddys noted they were able to make the film thanks to residents of the former Alvira.
"We are forever indebted to those White Deer Valley citizens who allowed us to interview them about an event that altered their lives forever better than 70 years ago," they said.
"Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira, Pennsylvania" will premier at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. The run-time is approximately 65 minutes.
Tickets are available through the Community Arts Center and the Muncy Historical Society. All proceeds benefit the Taber Museum.
The film's official trailer is available on YouTube, and more information can be found online at the Taber Museum's page devoted to the film: tabermuseum.org /alvira-premiere-benefits-museum/. More information is available at the event's Facebook page listed as "Surrender!: A Fundraising Film Event."