During WWII the U.S. military feared that the Detroit Airport, where combat aircraft were being built, could be a target for bombing. As a result, the federal government took over the airport in Freeland and added runways and taxiways so that fighter aircraft could be stationed there to intercept bombers en route to Detroit. Although the airport was never needed as an alternative World War II airfield base, it was used for a time as a Prisoner of War Camp. An estimated 8,000 German POWs were in Michigan by the end of 1945. At Camp Freeland, the POW population peaked at 1,070 before the camp closed on Dec. 16, 1945. The camp consisted of 20 Barracks, a mess hall and recreation hall. The prisoners would work in the local farm fields with the letters “PW” displayed on there cloths. POWs were paid 80 cents for a day’s work, or 10 cents when not working, in the form of “canteen checks” usable only in the post exchange. Prisoners could work only as many hours per day as American labor was employed.
A photo of Hartley Nature Camp showing one of the former POW barracks: photo courtesy of Hartley Nature Center
After the war the Property was converted into Tri-City Airport which benifited from the new runways added by the military. None of the buildings used by the camp remain at the airport today, but some were moved and used for other purposes. The old VFW post on Bay Road was a former Camp Freeland building. Some of the barracks were moved to Hartley Nature Camp ( now Harltley Outdoor Education Center) in St Charles. The old Barracks were removed when the new building at Hartley was built in the 70’s.
P.S. I wonder if the prisoners found it ironic they were a prisoner in a place called “Freeland”
I found this interesting article about the camp at the Midland Daily New HERE
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