Friday, March 22, 2019

Inter-War Period: 1919-1939

Bridge building exercises, Camp Humphreys, 1921.

Unlike many temporary Army installations established during World War I and closed following the war, Camp A.A. Humphreys remained active and continued to expand. By 1919 the camp had grown from its original 1,500 acres to approximately 6,000 acres.

The Army's commitment to the post was demonstrated by the official relocation of the Engineer School from the Washington Barracks to Camp A.A. Humphreys in 1919. Although the school had been utilizing the area as a training site since 1915, it was not until 1919 that the camp became the "home" of the Corps of Engineers. Following the Engineer School's move, Camp A.A. Humphreys was designated a permanent post in 1922 and renamed Fort Humphreys. Throughout the inter-war years, the Engineer School trained new engineer officers in the technical requirements of their duties. Programs offered included forestry, road and railroad construction, camouflage, mining, surveying, pontoon construction, photography, printing, and cooking.

The school also provided compressed courses for National Guard and Reserve officers. The four-week ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) camps, which drew would-be Army Engineers from universities across the country, continued the facility's pre-World War I tradition of using the original 1,500-acre site as a summer training camp. ROTC cadets received basic training in standard military tactics through such courses as bayonet drill and target practice; military administration and military law, first aid and sanitation; and two levels of engineering courses in such specializations as bridgebuilding, demolition, reconnaissance, and railroad construction. Of course, ROTC camp experiences were not all work; the camp had a yearbook, an orchestra, and an organized program of athletic competition. The camp hostess also made certain that the would-be officers socialized with acceptable young ladies from the surrounding neighborhood.

Another addition to Fort Humphreys during the inter-war period was the Engineer Board, which relocated to Fort Humphreys in 1924. The Engineer Board, forerunner of the Belvoir Research, Development and Engineering Center, was founded in 1870 to test engineering equipment. At Fort Humphreys, the Board's mission was to develop specialized engineering equipment. Its establishment marked the beginning of the installation's role in military research and development. During the inter-war period, the Board developed numerous items to make troops more effective and more comfortable in combat. Among the many innovations were assault boats, portable steel bridges, mine detectors, and even portable bathing units.

One of the more dramatic changes to Fort Humphreys during the inter-war period was its physical transformation. By the 1920s, the installation's original temporary buildings had deteriorated, as had most of the Army's other temporary training cantonments that were hastily built during World War 1.

In 1926, the Army initiated an ambitious, nation-wide building program designed to address growing concerns over the deplorable living conditions reported at the nation's military installations. The program aimed to replace World War I temporary wooden buildings with permanent buildings. The program was financed through the sale of 43 military installations; money received from the sales was deposited into a special fund designated the "Military Post Construction Fund."

The Army's nationwide re-building program resulted in a massive construction effort that involved both military and civilian architects, planners, and designers. Standardized architectural plans were developed by the Army's Quartermaster Corps to carry out the construction program effectively and economically. These plans included designs that adapted to local climatic conditions and that reflected local architectural history. The Georgian Colonial Revival style, characterized by red brick facades, strict symmetry, and pedimented central pavilions, was used most often in the eastern areas of the country, where English settlements were clustered in the colonial period. The Spanish Colonial Revival style, characterized by stucco walls and clay tile roofs, was favored for posts in the south and the west, in areas of traditional Spanish influence.

Bridge building exercises, Camp Humphreys, 1921.

Many of Fort Belvoir's most important buildings were constructed as a result of the nation wide rebuilding program. Most of Fort Humphreys' temporary wood-frame World War I buildings were demolished; in their place, new permanent masonry construction buildings were erected. At Belvoir, the new buildings included officers' housing, barracks, and a hospital, all designed in a Georgian Colonial Revival style.

The landscape plan adopted for Fort Humphreys also exemplified Army efforts to improve the quality of life for its personnel and the aesthetic beauty of its installations. George B. Ford, planning adviser to the War Department during the 1920s, encouraged installations to turn away from more formal, traditional planning practices, particularly the use of straight lines and rigid geometric patterns. He advocated creating useful and aesthetically pleasing environments that took advantage of natural vistas and used irregular lines. Quartermaster Corps officer, First Lieutenant Howard B. Nurse, also influenced Army planning at this time.  Like Ford, he advocated the integration of natural topography in the design and layout of streets, especially in residential areas. The results of Nurse's and Ford's philosophies are most apparent in the configuration of the officers' housing sections at Belvoir today.

Aerial view of Fort Humphreys, 1932.

These new planning concepts were implemented at installations nation-wide, including Fort Humphreys. The elaborate new layout for Fort Humphreys called for separate functional areas united in a formal plan. Administrative and instructional buildings were arranged along one side of the parade ground, with barracks, theater, gymnasium, post exchange, and post office in two squares on the opposite side of the parade ground. Non-commissioned officer housing was arranged in two blocks behind the barracks area, while the officers' housing was placed along a picturesque, curving road in a park-like setting, Warehouses and support buildings were located at the edge of the new post plan.

Another development at the post during the inter-war period was a renewed interest in the history of the area, particularly of William Fairfax's Belvoir Plantation. During the 1920s, two lieutenants at the post, Karrick and Kohloss, surveyed and described the ruins of the old  Fairfax mansion, and attempted to reconstruct its historic appearance and layout. At about the same time, Fairfax Harrison, a locally-prominent historian and President of the Southern Railroad, sponsored the construction of the monument obelisk that today marks the graves of William Fairfax and his wife. In 1931, Colonel Edward. H. Schulz, Commanding Officer of Fort Humphreys, initiated the first archeological project at the plantation ruins. Vegetation was cleared, and excavation revealed the foundations of the large mansion, its outbuildings, and the outline of an elaborate walled flower garden with two garden houses that overlooked the Potomac River from the 100-foot bluff.

While Schulz' excavation techniques were somewhat primitive by modern standards, the archeological project generated a tremendous amount of public interest. There was some talk of reconstructing the manor house to serve as the commanding officer's quarters, and, in 1935, the name of the installation was changed from Fort Humphreys to Fort Belvoir. It is said that the name change occurred after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's visit to neighboring Gunston Hall, whose owner informed the president of the post's historic past.

Fort Humphreys Virginia map showing old and new proposed construction.

[ 1917-1918: Establishment of Camp A.A Humphreys | World War II Period: 1940-1945 ]

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