Growing up, everyone has that place they always wonder about. It lies unknown, forbidden, behind a stone wall or closed doors. Camp Evans was that place for me, a semi-abandoned military base behind a barbed wire fence and guards. There were signs warning of patrol dogs, but they’d left a long time ago. The huge parking lot outside the gates was mostly empty.
Luckily for me, my dad was just as obsessed. That meant I was able to get access to the world behind the gates. Legally, most of the time. My dad did an insane amount of research into the history of the site and now it’s a science center and on the National Register of Historic Places.
The history of Camp Evans
Camp Evans started off as the Belmar, NJ base for Guglielmo Marconi. The Marconi Wireless Company bought the property in 1912 to receive wireless messages from London. Messages were sent out from New Brunswick, NJ. This was part of a “wireless girdle” around the Earth, making worldwide communication possible for the first time. Edwin Armstrong and David Sarnoff did radio experiments here and Albert Einstein made a trip over to visit the New Brunswick station.
In 1917 the Navy took over the base. This kept Washington in communication with the troops in Europe. Messages were also sent to the Eifel Tower and to Rome, which was big news at the time. The armistice negotiations, along with plenty more mundane messages, were sent over to Europe through the Belmar base.
The Navy handed it back over in 1919, after the war was over and the equipment was outdated. By 1925, the Marconi Wireless Company had become RCA and unloaded the property to a group called the Monmouth Pleasure Seekers Club, a friendly-sounding name for the local chapter of the KKK. Naturally, there was a circus, a beauty pageant, and meetings of the American Nazi party. You can learn more about the history of the Monmouth Pleasure Seekers Club, and get a good idea of what my childhood was like, from Dane’s piece about it. They developed the neighborhood closest to where I grew up, naming it Imperial Park. The potential money from the development sparked infighting among the many shareholders and eventually the group dissolved, but not before the Great Depression greatly reduced the value of the property.
The 1938 freshmen class in front of the Marconi Hotel, courtesy InfoAge and Art Nordin.
In 1936, the Young People’s Association for the Propagation of the Gospel bought the property and founded King’s College, named for Christ, King of Kings. The group was led by Percy Crawford, who was fittingly, a radio evangelist. I eventually got to meet some of the students who attended before the college moved out to Delaware.
In 1941, the US Government bought the land for the Signal Corps radar laboratory and named it Camp Evans. There’s no consensus on who the ‘Evans’ refers to.
- I’ve done quite a few oral histories with scientists from world war two who claim Pearl Harbor was intentional.
- At this point, Camp Evans became a Black History site for a second time — as one of the few places Black PhDs (and women) could get jobs. Of course, they weren’t given credit for their work until decades after the fact.
- Project Wolf aimed to detect and kill soldiers hidden in caves.
- Radar developed at Camp Evans was credited as being crucial to winning the war.
- There are still quite a few Dymaxion Deployment Units at Camp Evans.
It remained an army research facility after the war.
- Operation Paperclip brought enemy scientists to work for the US.
- When Sputnik launched they frantically tracked it.
- Project Diana bounced radar waves off the moon, piercing the ionosphere for the first time.
- McCarthy was convinced it was full of spies.
- The I used to play in the remains of the buildings of Diaperville.
- They had a pretty fancy nuclear lab.
Underground vault of Stanley Kronenberg’s lab, viewed through the zinc bromide window. Photo courtesy of InfoAge and Mike Ruane.
Eventually, Camp Evans was decommissioned in 1998. Many of the buildings had been newly renovated, so my dad jumped at the chance to preserve the history with a museum on the site. Then came a decade of legal battles as the government “cleaned up” the site, which involved removing the sewer system, leaving the water running in an unheated army base during the winter, and dealing with massive contamination issues from army research. Instead of filling the buildings with science exhibits and history displays in 2002 like he’d imagined, he’s spent years raising money to restore the buildings.
There were 300 buildings on 25 acres, with about 400 acres total. All abandoned.
Abandoned Camp Evans
I did get picked up by the cops once, but by then my dad had been given written permission by the army to enter the site, so I was released.
I got my first digital camera in 2000, so that’s where the photos start.
Camp Evans today
My dad and his nonprofit finally got rights to the buildings in 2012, after 14 years of abandonment, neglect, and vandalism. It’s now home to the Military Technology Museum, Institute for Exploratory Research, Computer Deconstruction Lab, Electronic Warfare Museum, Garden State Model Railroad Club, National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, New Jersey Shipwreck Museum, Ocean Monmouth Amateur Radio Club, Radio Technology Museum, Arts Project Room, Marine and Environmental Science Station, Fallout Shelter Theatre, and Vintage Computer Federation. They’re well known for the Camp Evans Base of Terror and their Vintage Video Game Festival.