AN ANTIQUE ARMY BASE
Heat, sand, and gators: These three things were well remembered by Camp Johnson's soldiers. The Jacksonville base operated over 80 years ago during World War I. It stood at the site of today's Naval Air Station Jax on the Westside. These three pictures come from Camp Johnston postcards, and the bottom one depicts a school for officers.
If war is hell, then World War I proved a "new & improved" version. It was the first major conflict in which machine guns, poison gas, and airplanes were heavily used. Until the Second World War introduced the planet to even greater horrors, World War I was called "The Great War." Over 115,000 Americans lost their lives in the conflict (compared to more than 55,000 U.S. deaths in Vietnam). However, the memory of World War I has not been well kept. The conflict is often forgotten or is simply referred to as "Part One" of World War II.
The grandfather of the website manager of JacksonvilleStory.com served in France during the First World War. He hailed from Rochelle, Florida (near Gainesville). A quiet, thin man with a white beard, the former infantry soldier would sometimes speak in low tones about his wartime experiences. A favorite story involved the eating of several packhorses when the provisions ran out. It was the job of Camp Johnston's graduates to try to insure that this sort of thing didn't occur! Please see the text below for more info.
CLICK HERE for a panoramic view of Camp Johnston
CLICK HERE for more R & R
CLICK HERE for the target range
CLICK HERE for bunks & stumps
CLICK HERE for the end and beyond
JAX AND CAMP JOHNSTON -- Why has the military long favored Jacksonville as a place for bases? Climate and transportation, the same reasons that many companies now relocate here. Sunny days have allowed military personnel more time for outdoor training & activities, while trains and ships serving "The Gateway to Florida" have given easy access. (Today, of course, railroads have lost most of their traffic to highways, but the River City is well served by these too.)
Let's go back to an old-time army base, Camp Joseph E. Johnston, built during the era of biplanes and Model T's. Climate & transportation were two chief reasons why the federal government chose Jacksonville for its location. Established after the U.S. entered into World War I in 1917, the Westside base was situated where NAS Jax is located today. It functioned as a training center for quartermasters. These are officers whose duty is to provide other military personnel with food, shelter, clothing, fuel, stationery, storage, and transportation. Camp Johnston was named for the Confederate general who served as the head quartermaster for the U.S. Army before the Civil War.
The base buzzed like a busy town, with up to 27,000 men stationed there at a time. They lived in wooden barracks and in tents. Whereas Roosevelt Boulevard now ties Jacksonville to NAS Jax, an electric streetcar line used to link the city with Camp Johnston.
The entire camp required less than four months to build. At the peak of activity, 9,000 workers toiled on its construction.
OLD BRICK STREET IN THE WOODS -- Half-buried with leaves in the lush Westside Regional Park is an old-fashion highway, fun to use today for walking. Topping the street are dirty, reddish bricks, cracked with age. Although still hundreds of yards long, the roadway used to run from Jacksonville to Camp Johnston and the St. Johns River.
on this quiet path today, it's hard to believe that it once hummed with
Keeping an eye out for snakes, the website manager for JacksonvilleStory.com hiked the abandoned highway one muggy afternoon in May 2003. The marshy ground in the area could be clearly seen, along with what may be the remains of a house, with bricks scattered in the underbrush, rusted bedsprings sitting on the ground, and perhaps a chimney that had toppled on its side. Few people appeared on the brick street, other than a woman walking her dog and a man leading a group of ten chattering children. Seeing this bunch of youngsters, some of whom had been barely born in the 20th century, you become even more aware of the street's age and of the passing of some things from importance. In four or five generations, will nearby Roosevelt Highway lie buried under debris, a forgotten relic?
FOR VISITING THE JACKSONVILLE STORY,
YOUR TIME MACHINE TO THE PAST