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From Camp Little Silver to Camp Alfred Vail

With the entry of the United States into World War I (WWI) it was realized that the existing Signal Corps of 55 officers and 2,530 enlisted men would not be sufficient. The expanse of the war theater mandated the addition of thousands of men into the Signal Corps. To satisfy this need, a rapid expansion of training facilities was initiated. New camps were planned in CA, TX, KA, and a site near NY. These facilities, with the exception of the one near NY could be constructed on Federal Lands. It would be necessary to lease land for the facility near NY.

Camp Little Silver, August 1917. Company St of Company D, 2nd reserve battalion. The tower in the background is from the old racetrack stewards tower building.

The area selected was in NJ. Long Branch Mayor John Flock urged the War Department to acquire acreage in a parcel in Oceanport. This location was rejected, and the War Department settled on what was part of the grounds of the old Monmouth Park Race Track that was owned by Melvin Van Keuren of Eatontown. This parcel included 468 acres in an area bounded on the north by the South Shrewsbury River, on the west and south by a stone road from Eatontown, and on the east by the Oceanport-Little Silver road. The Parker Creek Tributary to the Shrewsbury River traversed the entire property near the northern limits. The site offered a port of embarkation, paved roads, and a railroad.

29th Service Company Mess Hall, 1917.

The first tents were pitched in June, 1917 among the potatoes, the briars, and poison ivy; a detachment of Depot Company H, Signal Corps arrived and began marking out and clearing the camp site. Quartermaster installations and a tent hospital had been established by 14 June 1917. Construction was started on buildings for administration, officers’ quarters, temporary barracks, transportation sheds, and shops. A warehouse was being erected near the railroad sidings. It was evident that drainage would be required to render the area usable.

Wooden barracks, 1917.

Rapid progress was made clearing the area of corn, brush and other undergrowth. Roads were repaired and extended. The facilities, however, were still crude. Only three points in the Camp provided drinking water could be obtained. A poison ivy epidemic spread through the Camp causing many to be hospitalized. At the same time, field battalions had begun an intensive training program, even though equipment was inadequate.

The barber shop and tailor shop shared the same building.

By September twelve buildings were completed by the Quartermaster. They included an administration building, hospital ward, motor vehicle sheds and repair shops. By the end of October, six additional building were completed. Eight-hundred men were still housed under canvas at this time. Camp Alfred Vail, as the camp was named by September 1917, dispatched its first unit to the Hoboken Port of Embarkation on 18 October when the 11th Reserve Telegraph Battalion boarded the train for its movement to the battle zone.

Map of Camp Alfred Vail from 1919.

Note: Blog written by Staff Historian Floyd Hertweck. 

Posted in From the Archives.

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  1. cecomhistorian says

    Gibbs Hall (the Fort Monmouth Officer’s Club) began as a private county club know as “Suneagles,” built by Max Phillips in the 1920s. The country club consisted of a clubhouse (which is still largely intact as part of Gibbs Hall), an eighteen-hole golf course, a polo field, and an airfield. The Army acquired the site, along with the rest of the Charles Wood area, in 1941. Camp Little Silver existed from 17 June 1917 until it was renamed Camp Alfred Vail on 15 September 1917. So, no, Suneagles was not part of the original Camp Little Silver – it wasn’t acquired by Fort Monmouth until 1941.

  2. Lawrence says

    Was the Sun Eagles Golf Course ever a part of Camp Little Silver?