A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

History: Camp Alfred Vail

Code Class at Camp Vail (Photo: US Army)

The 13 Nov 1919 edition of The Matawan Journal, page 4, contains the following article about the establishment of a permanent signal corps training post that had its origins during the First World War. Camp Vail would eventually become Fort Monmouth, a US Army signals intelligence center for many years. Fort Monmouth finally closed this past week, with most of its operations relocated to Aberdeen, Maryland.

 $110,000 For Camp Vail.

The House Military Affairs Committee, recommending in a report to Congress Saturday an appropriation of $4,500,000 for the purchase of land for army posts and the completion of army buildings thereon, included an item of $110,000 for the purchase of Camp Alfred Vail, Little Silver. Camp Vail, during the war, was a signal corps training and concentration camp. It is still being used and the War Department plans it as a permanent signal corps training post. Congressman Scully introduced a bill for the purchase of the property as a permanent post.

The History section of Wikipedia's article about Fort Monmouth says that the Army used a defunct racetrack on the site during the First World War for officer training, referring to it briefly as Camp Little Silver. In September 1917, the site began to be called Camp Alfred Vail, the first indication that signals-related work was going on there.

Alfred Lewis Vail

Alfred Vail (Wikimedia)

Alfred Lewis Vail (1807-1859), of Morristown, NJ, played a significant role in the development and commercialization of the telegraph. He worked with Samuel F B Morse, who seems to have wrested much of the glory and financial benefit from the arrangement.
A lasting legacy to Vail is a 265 unit housing development in Shrewsbury Township -- a development once used as military housing in Fort Monmouth -- which  still carries the name Alfred Vail Mutual Association. The Asbury Park Press carried an interesting 15 Sep 2007 story about small town Shrewsbury that mentions the development.

A front page article in the 8 Aug 1924 edition of The Matawan Journal announced that General Black Jack Pershing planned his first visit to Camp Vail the next morning. The General would review the troops on the polo grounds, attend a luncheon in his honor, and possibly attend a polo match at the Rumson Country Club that afternoon. The luncheon would be hosted by Lieutenant Colonel J E Hemphill, commanding officer at Camp Vail.

The 14 Aug 1925 edition of The Matawan Journal announced the renaming of Camp Vail as Fort Monmouth and the appointment of a replacement for then Colonel Hemphill.

Camp Vail Renamed

Camp Alfred Vail has been renamed Fort Monmouth and made a permanent military camp, according to information received at the camp Tuesday by Colonel J. Edward Hemphill, commandant. Colonel Hemphill is to be succeeded on August 31 by Colonel James B. Allison, of Washington.

The camp was established by the government as a station for recruits before the World War. The site was what was known as the new Monmouth Park track, opened in 1890 and closed three years later. It is expected that permanent officers' quarters will soon be built there.

The 29 Nov 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal announces that Major General George Lane Van Deusen was to receive the Legion of Merit for his work at Fort Monmouth during the Second World War. He had had a long and distinguished career in signals intelligence. He joined the Signal Corps in 1917 and commanded the 105th Field Signal Battalion, which saw action in Belgium and France under the 30th Division during the First World War. It's possible that his battalion was involved in the first use of Cherokee code talkers at the Second Battle of the Somme. He served at Camp Vail/Fort Monmouth from 1921 to 1929 and again for several years in the late 1930s. He became commandant at Fort Monmouth's signals training center in 1940.

The above article notes that General Van Deusen married Effie Baker of Keyport and Matawan. The 1930 Federal Census for New Jersey shows Effie E Baker, age 25, living in Keyport with her parents, John C and Maybel D Baker. Effie was a school teacher and her father was an insurance agent. The Bakers were born in Canada but had US roots. Social Security records show that Effie B Vandeusen was born 8 May 1904 and died on 22 Jan 1993 in Monmouth Beach.

On the occasion of the appointment of General Kirke Lawton as the 16th commander of the signal corps center at Fort Monmouth, the Matawan Journal provided a detailed history of the establishment and growth of this US Army training facility on page 4 of the second section of its 20 Dec 1951 edition.


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