Army Bases

Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pennsylvania

The Army arrived at Tobyhanna in 1912 in the presence of Maj. Charles P. Summerall, who had been given the assignment to find an appropriate east coast location for an artillery training camp. Summerall was the commander of the 3rd Field Artillery at Fort Myer, Va.

In that era, the Army's only artillery training camp east of the Mississippi River was in Sparta, Wisconsin, although the greatest number of Regular Army and National Guard artillery units were concentrated in the northeastern states.

After inspecting several sites in Maryland and elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Summerall determined that a location near the rail station in Tobyhanna was suitable. He proceeded to lease land for $300 in August from Dr. George Rhoads, a prominent local resident, and directed the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery to train there as it was returning from maneuvers in Connecticut that summer. The unit remained in the Poconos until October.

That initial camp proved so successful that the Army decided to return the next summer, and to also set up a camp of instruction for militia batteries and a school for militia officers. In the summer of 1913,the 3rd Field Artillery marched to Tobyhanna from Fort Myer, leaving Virginia on June 2 and arriving at Tobyhanna on June 18. The march route passed through Baltimore, crossed the Susquehanna River at Conowingo, Md. and proceeded through "fertile and attractive land in Pennsylvania," as Summerall described the march. The 3rd Field Artillery arrived three days ahead of the first of several militia units, and assisted those units in their training.

Among the units which trained at Tobyhanna in 1913 were the Rhode Island Light Battery A, and militia units from Connecticut and the District of Columbia. This established a pattern that would last for the next several years.

The camp offered few amenities in its early years, but Summerall assessed its terrain as very favorable for artillery training. Land was cleared and temporary buildings serving as kitchens, latrines, showers and stables were constructed. Instructions for units arriving by train were simple:

Batteries will detrain on a siding near the camp. Wagons will meet the trains to haul all baggage. The post office, depot and telegraph station are at Tobyhanna. Camp cots or bed sacks should be brought for all men. Extra covering will be found useful, as the nights are generally cold.

Recreational opportunities were limited, but officers and soldiers participated in field day sports on July 4 and Sept. 1. Many local residents attended these events, which helped to establish good relations between the Army and local residents, Summerall reported.

The 3rd broke camp on Oct. 4 and reached Fort Myer on Oct. 24.

Based on the successful summer camps of 1912 and 1913, Congress authorized the Army to purchase land for a permanent camp at Tobyhanna. With $50,000 authorized by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, Summerall acquired more than 18,000 acres for what was designated the Tobyhanna Artillery Target Range. Additional purchases of land would be made over the next several years until the reservation totalled some 23,000 acres. One purchase would be the Sherman farm. The Sherman farmhouse was located where the depot commander's residence now stands.

In its early years, it would have several names, including Camp Summerall, Camp Tobyhanna and the Tobyhanna Artillery Target Range. In the summers of 1912 and 1913, Summerall had established an Army presence that, with one break, continues until today.

Maj. Charles Pelot Summerall, who first brought the Army to Tobyhanna in 1912, would continue an already distinguished military career that ended with his selection as Army Chief of Staff. His achievements ranked him as the finest American artilleryman of his generation.

Born in Florida in 1867, he graduated from West Point in 1892. Commissioned in the infantry, he transferred to the artillery and served as an aide to Brig. Gen. Alexander Pennington during the Spanish-American War. He commanded an artillery battery during the Philippine Insurrection in 1899-1900.

In 1900, during the allied assault upon Beijing in the Boxer Rebellion, he walked to the gate of the Imperial City and scratched marks to indicate parts of the gate as targets for his platoon of field guns. His unit also blew open the gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing. For his actions, Summerall was cited by President McKinley for bravery.

Following his service in China, he held a variety of posts, including senior instructor of artillery tactics at West Point.His involvement with the training camp at Tobyhanna resulted in his special interest in the artillery instruction of National Guard troops.

With the American entrance into World War I, Summerall was assigned to draw up the organizational plans for the American Expeditionary Force under General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. He went to Europe with the AEF, where he first commanded artillery brigades in two divisions, then was promoted to command of the 1st Division in July 1918. He implemented close coordination between artillery and infantry units, perfecting the so-called creeping barrage that preceded an infantry advance.

He was promoted to command of V Corps, which was in the forefront of the fighting until the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. At Soissons in 1918, Summerall's courage and complete disregard for his safety in making personal reconnaissance under heavy enemy fire earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.

Following the war, he commanded the Army's Hawaii Department. In 1925, he served briefly as a judge in the court-martial of Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell. In 1926, he assumed the duties of Army Chief of Staff. He was succeeded in that position in 1930 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Upon his retirement from active service, he assumed the presidency of The Citadel, Charleston, S.C. in 1931. He held this post until 1953, when he retired at the age of 86.

He died in Washington, D.C. in 1955.

In recognition of his central role in establishing the Army's presence at Tobyhanna, the depot's barracks and the buildings and grounds in that area are named in his honor.

World war erupted in August 1914, and although the United States would not enter it until three years later, activity increased at Tobyhanna as the nation moved to a war footing. Artillery training increased in pace in 1915 with units from Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut training here, as well as several Pennsylvania National Guard units.

The Army also continued to add to the size of the camp, purchasing additional land in 1914 and 1915. In 1917, additional acreage was acquired to establish several new artillery firing points.

In 1916, a Joint Camp of Instruction for field hospital companies was established. Field Hospital Company No. 6 and Ambulance Company No. 6 from Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont were sent to Tobyhanna to conduct training that summer for sanitary troops of the organized militia. Later, it also became a tank corps training camp, continuing until 1918. With its location adjacent to the main rail line to New York City, the camp also became an embarkation point for soldiers headed to Europe, according to local residents.

The Army closed the tank and sanitation camps in 1918. However, in 1919, activity increased at the camp with the establishment of the Tobyhanna General Ordnance Depot. This was created to provide a temporary storage location for huge quantities of ammunition and other high explosives coming back to the United States following the end of the war.

The ordnance was stored in an area between Warnertown and what is now Route 380. The depot was operated and secured by a unit of 195 soldiers and five officers for approximately six months before the explosives were distributed to permanent depots across the country. An estimated four million pounds of explosives were stored here.

After that unique episode, the camp reverted to its original field artillery training mission, although the pace slackened considerably during the period between 1919 and 1930. The peacetime Regular Army virtually abandoned the camp during this period, although National Guard units continued to use it for artillery training throughout the 1920s. In fact, control of the camp was transferred to the Militia Bureau from 1920 to 1923, when it reverted to the Army's III Corps area. Among the units that trained here was the 109th Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard, of Wilkes-Barre. In fact, documents indicate that Tobyhanna was the only site in the commonwealth where live cannon fire was permitted.

Some reported events during that period include the flyover of nine military aircraft, including three Martin bombers, three observation planes and three pursuit planes. Maj. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then commanding the Army's III Corps area, was also reported to have visited the camp. Also from 1925 to 1928, a portion of the Army reservation was designated as the Tobyhanna National Forest, although this designation was revoked a few years later.

The Regular Army never totally abandoned its interest in Tobyhanna. In 1923, Maj. Gen. William Snow, chief of field artillery, inspected the camp. Several building projects took place in the 1920s, including $96,000 in 1922 for construction of a power plant, machine shop, incinerator, new roads, ammunition magazines and the clearing of firing points. Later in the 1920s, funds for a water tower, gunsheds and a warehouse were authorized. In 1924, a signal detachment installed a telephone system at the camp.

In 1926, extensive improvements were made, including gun emplacements, mess halls, kitchens, an infirmary, water and sewer systems, stables and two concrete observation towers. Quartermaster records indicate the reservation totaled 32,000 acre.

Salaries paid to civilian workers at the camp in 1926 ranged from fifty cents an hour for laborers and painters to $1.25 an hour for masons.

As the new decade of the 1930s approached, years of peace and prosperity had resulted in diminishing utilization of the camp throughout the 1920s. Both the Regular Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard continued to train there, but the level of activity decreased significantly from the period of the Great War.

As late as 1930, the 1st Battalion, 16th Field Artillery, Fort Myer, Va., marched north to train at Tobyhanna. In 1931, the Army expended approximately $10,000 to construct two new warehouses at the camp.

By the early 1930s, Tobyhanna was the only location within Pennsylvania where live cannon fire was permitted. Camp capacity was listed at 275 officers, 4,000 enlisted personnel and 500 animals. Nevertheless, in 1932 the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania informed the National Guard Bureau that it no longer required the Tobyhanna Military Reservation for training. In 1934, a unit of 20 Army officers and soldiers dismantled the camp and shipped out 30 railroad cars of artillery equipment.

However, the stock market crash of October 1929 and the resulting collapse of the nation's economy would soon bring new and decidedly different missions to the Army installation at Tobyhanna.

As the financial disasters and personal tragedies increased with the spread of the Great Depression, many unemployed men took to the road in search of employment or simply to find food and shelter. Recognizing their plight, the Army authorized the use of Tobyhanna's barracks as temporary quarters for these homeless wanderers. Up to 1,000 men were housed here in 1930, and many were put to work in a reforestation program.

As the nation came to grips with the economic realities, both the state and federal governments initiated several public works projects and programs to provide gainful employment. One of the most successful was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which put the unemployed to work on environmental and conservation projects. Many of these camps where these workers lived and worked were led and staffed by military officers and NCOs. Tobyhanna became one of these camps in 1933.

In 1934, Pennsylvania opened a transient camp for 500 men, paying them $15 monthly for roadwork, cutting fire trails, and general forestry work.

New buildings to house 200 men were built in 1935. In 1936, the federal Works Progress Administration was authorized to use the former state transient camp.

In 1938, the CCC camp also became a processing point for corps members going to work on conservation projects in national parks in the western states.

Others who remained at Tobyhanna worked on local projects, including constructing what is now the depot's Barney's Lake. The lake was named in honor of Maj. Barney, commander of the Tobyhanna CCC camp.

As the economy began its slow recovery in the late 1930s, and as the threat of a new World War loomed in both Europe and the Pacific, Tobyhanna reverted to its original military training purpose. This time, the trainees were cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During the summers of 1938-41, cadets between their junior and senior academic years received field artillery training at Tobyhanna. The experience is well documented in Cadet yearbooks from that period, and Shimko's tavern was a famous, although forbidden, gathering spot for thirsty cadets after long, hot days in the field.

In addition, two local congressmen issued a call in 1938 for either the Army or the Navy to establish a permanent installation at Tobyhanna. World war would bring a positive response to that call.

As war spread in Europe and the Pacific in the late 1930s, the pace of military activity quickened at the Tobyhanna Military Reservation. West Point cadets trained through the summer of 1941.

With the U.S. entry into the war in December 1941, Tobyhanna was initially selected as an anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) training site. However, technology had so increased the range of modern weapons that the Tobyhanna site was not physically large enough to accommodate this training mission. Area farmers and other residents complained about the disruption caused by the constant firing of the AA guns. Some shells fell on private property outside the reservation boundary, and in another incident, an aircraft towing a sleeve target tore down power lines. In announcing the Army decision to abandon Tobyhanna as an AAA training site, the Scranton Times reported that crews could only fire one or two shells during each pass of a target, and guns were limited to a 65-degree firing arc. Training that was originally scheduled for 8,000 officers and enlisted personnel was quickly curtailed, with only about 800 soldiers having completed training when the mission ended. The departure of the AAA trainees came shortly after the installation commander had lifted an off-limits ban on the City of Scranton, according to the Times.

Other uses were found as a storage and support facility for the Army Air Corps. Its official designations included the Army Air Force Service Units Training Center and the Tobyhanna Air Corps Storage Depot. A variety of supplies and material was stored here, most notably crated gliders destined for use in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and other airborne operations in Europe. Following the war, surplus gliders were much prized in northeastern Pennsylvania. The crates containing the gliders were made of high-quality lumber. Much of this lumber became the building material for cabins or home additions in the region throughout the late 1940s. The gliders often were discarded or abandoned in the woods.

Later in the war, an ambulance-training site opened here. This was an all-black unit, reflecting the Army's segregated status during World War II. A military hospital was constructed here in 1942 and 1943. It was built to accommodate the large number of wounded expected from an invasion of Japan. Since that invasion did not occur, the hospital was never fully utilized. However, the 19 single-story structures that make up the 1000-series of buildings have served the depot well for more than 50 years, including use as the first headquarters and administrative area during construction of the depot in the 1950s.

Finally, at the end of the war, a POW camp was constructed to house German enlisted personnel. The camp opened in early 1945, and the maximum number of prisoners confined at Tobyhanna approached 300. These prisoners harvested ice from area ponds, and worked on regional farms in the summer and fall of 1945. The prison compound was located in the general area of the present-day commissary. A report of October 1945 showed that 56 prisoners were assigned to farm work, 41 in logging operations, and 10 in ice storage. Others worked on post in glider storage operations. While imprisoned here, the Germans could take advantage of courses in English, Russian and French. In November 1945, all off-post work was ended and the prisoners were sent back to Germany before the onset of winter. The World War II headquarters was a large two-story building, located near the current depot entrance on route 423.

The end of World War II brought a rapid demobilization of the U.S. armed forces and a reduction in the bases that had supported a global conflict.

The Tobyhanna Military Reservation would not escape this 1940s military downsizing. German prisoners-of-war went home in late 1945 and other activities at the installation slowed to a near halt. One activity that quickened was the disposal of excess gliders still stored at the installation. These were made available for sale to the general public and proved quite popular. More than 450 were sold at $75 each. Ironically, it was not the powerless aircraft which local residents sought, but the high-quality lumber that made up the glider's storage box. This wood was converted into home additions, porches, and even small cottages by many area residents.

Following the war, the reservation came under control of the War Assets Administration. Many buildings at the installation were demolished or dismantled, including 15 steel barracks that were shipped to Fort Eustis, Va., for use as school buildings. The two-story headquarters building, located near the present Stroudsburg gate, also was demolished.

With the impending shutdown of military operations, regional leaders sought to find new uses for the base. The Monroe County Chamber of Commerce formed a United Nations Site Committee, which campaigned for the construction of UN headquarters at the installation. Proponents cited a healthful climate, room for expansion, and support from local residents, who voted unanimously in favor of the plan. The committee members also noted that the rural area would eliminate the distractions of a large city and enable members to focus on their mission of "building world peace." Nevertheless, the UN chose New York City as its permanent home.

Area veterans groups also staked a claim, urging that the Tobyhanna military hospital be transferred to the Veterans Administration as a temporary general hospital until the new VA medical center in Wilkes-Barre was completed. Once the Wilkes-Barre hospital was operational, the Tobyhanna hospital could become a tuberculosis sanitarium, the veterans proposed.

Despite these local efforts, the federal government moved ahead with its plan to abandon the site, transferring the 22,000-acre reservation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1949 for "recreation and conservation purposes." The land came under the direct control of Pennsylvania's Department of Forestry and Waters. Tobyhanna State Park and the nearby state gamelands resulted from this transfer.

The federal government's absence from Tobyhanna would prove to be short-lived, however.

Pressing military requirements and a key Army leader with local ties brought the Army marching back to Tobyhanna within a few years of its departure.

The Army Signal Corps had operated from a leased facility in Baltimore during and after World War II. However, this facility was about to become unavailable to the Army, and the Signal Corps sought to maintain an East Coast presence by building a new depot.

Joseph Marinangeli, a Scranton native and chief of the Signal Corps' Plans and Project Branch, was tasked with finding a site for this new signal depot. An area native, he knew that the Army had operated at Tobyhanna for many years.

In determining an appropriate site, the Signal Corps required a location near eastern seaports and electronics manufactures, but outside of the then-anticipated nuclear blast zone around New York City or other strategic targets.

Marinangeli's search was reduced to three potential locations. However, the site near Easton was sold as farmland, and the second location near Scranton was ruled out since Scranton was considered a potential target in the event of war.

However, it was in Scranton on Jan. 17, 1951 that the Army formally announced its plan to reacquire 1,400 acres of the former Tobyhanna Military Reservation for a new $35 million supply depot.

The new facility was welcome news to an economically depressed region severely suffering from the decline of the anthracite coal industry. An estimated 35,000 regional workers were unemployed and personnel officials would receive as many as 600 applications a day, even though the opening of the facility was more than two years away.

Site design and preparation began later that year and Tobyhanna Signal Depot would officially be established on Feb. 1, 1953.