|Davids' Island, former site of Fort Slocum
|dubbed "Camp Fed" for amenities
In the 1880's new brick structures replaced the aging wooden ones, including officers' quarters, a hospital, mess halls, and regular recruit housing, plus ancillary use buildings, like the landmark water tower in the north of the island. These would remain until demolition in 2008. Through the end of the nineteenth century the island was used as a coastal artillery defense post, and officially named Fort Slocum in 1896.
For a brief time Fort Slocum was a critical component of the coastal artillery program, then the guns were deactivated late in the first decade of the 20th century. Still the fort continued to be a recruiting station of great importance to the army. In 1917, at the onset of American troop recruitment for WWI, this little island processed more than 100,000 enlistees, with an overflow spilling into New Rochelle. In the years between the two world wars, Fort Slocum survived by various supplemental roles such as housing the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, as well as a US Olympics Team. For a brief time, an army bakers and cooks school was stationed here as well. Recruiting for foreign service during this time was done exclusively through this post. So anyone deployed abroad between WWI and II would have passed through this island first.
|WACS in Central Park
In the years after WWII, Fort Slocum struggled to maintain its usefulness to the government. For a short time it was the headquarters for the Air Force. It also served from 1951-1962 as the Army Chaplain School, and in the early fifties passed through a few names essentially as a school for army communications and information. Military Journalism, TV and Radio broadcasting, and photography were all taught here for a time. Finally, in November 1965 the fort was decommissioned by the government and left to neglect and deterioration.
Davids' Island parallels the story of many American towns that have struggled in recent years with the downturn in the economy. Empty dilapidated buildings were razed after the new turn of the century, and the property has not been redeveloped. Investors have nibbled on the island over the years, including NYC real estate mogul Donald Trump, but no one has bit. The wonderful history that happened here is hidden from view, except in the memories of its witnesses and the writings and photos they leave behind.
|Aunt Dorothy Cronin
On a personal note, the history of Fort Slocum plays a part of my family story. My mother's only sister, ten years her senior, was of courting age during WWII. My aunt--Dorothy Cronin, and her cousins Dolores and Marion, comprised the singing group the Croonin' Cronins, who visited Fort Slocum and performed for the soldiers. My aunt met many war-bound soldiers who sent tokens of their admiration. According to family legend, on the eve of her engagement to my uncle who served in the Construction Battalion (CB or the Sea-Bees as they were affectionately called) my aunt on the advice of my grandfather burned many a letter from these admirers. What history must have been contained in them! I can only imagine. But as a young bride about to wed the love of her life, how could she do anything less? Talk about romantic conflict! I am currently writing a novella inspired by their story. I hope to be able to share it with you all one of these days.
Now it's your turn as the reader. Do you have any favorite WWII family stories you would like to share? Leave them in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by today, and don't forget to share our blog with your friends.
Kathleen L. Maher’s first literary crush was Peter Rabbit, and she’s had an infatuation with books and fictional heroes ever since. She has a novella releasing with Barbour in the 2018 Victorian Christmas Brides collection, featuring her hometown of Elmira, NY. Her debut historical “Bachelor Buttons” was released in 2013, and incorporates her Irish heritage and love of the American Civil War. She won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, historical category, in 2012.
Kathleen and her husband raised their three children in an old farmhouse in upstate NY, along with a small zoo of rescued dogs, cats, and birds. They run an art business in their spare time and enjoy spoiling their grandchildren on the weekends.
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