The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

March 28, 2014

Filmmakers turn lens on fate of Alvira

Wartime promise for return of 8,400 acres unfulfilled

LEWISBURG — LEWISBURG — Alvira, Pa., was a small village with great access to a lot of water, and that put it in the federal government’s sights in 1942 when it claimed eminent domain of the Union County settlement.

“It takes an unbelievable amount of water to produce TNT, it’s an extraordinarily water-intensive process,” said Steve Huddy, of Williamsport.

Freshly into World War II, the U.S. War Department needed a lot of dynamite. It also, apparently, needed people it could roll over easy, and found them in Alvira, according to the 250-page site report the war department compiled and Huddy discovered.

The federal government found Alvira’s citizens to be patriotic, easy manipulated, nonunion and unsophisticated, the report said; essentially, the government found the village ripe for the taking.

That’s among the sad truths in “Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira, Pennsylvania,” a documentary Steve and Martha Huddy produced. Within six weeks, the feds were in and the people of Alvira were out, promised they could come back for their land.

But they never could. Paid just 30 to 35 cents on the dollar for 8,400 acres, once the people moved out, the land values went up, making it far out of reach for them to ever come back and reclaim their land or their livelihoods, Huddy said.

“They were promised they’d get the land back on two occasions,” at meetings in February and March 1942, from the pulpit of Stone Church, Huddy said. Four-hundred people attended each meeting.

“At the March meeting, from the pulpit, the government said we know this is an inconvenience for you; you need to be out in six weeks. But when we no longer have the need for the war factory, you’ll be allowed to purchase your property for the amount given now.”

The TNT plant — made for $50 million in 1942 — operated just 11 months.

The promise “was the one ray of hope these poor people had,” Huddy said. “To have that turn out to be farcical was beyond anyone’s belief that the government could be as cavalier and untruthful as it was.”

Self-proclaimed history buffs, Steve Huddy said the couple became filmmakers after learning about Alvira from the Lycoming County Historical Society. Alvira is one of 76 similar sites.

Huddy said the couple needed to do this film “to simply say to people, we most often recognize the sacrifice during war time being the responsibility of the people in uniform. Here and in 76 other places, there were sacrifices beyond anyone’s believe and most people’s knowledge.”

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