Fort Belvoir Historic Context

Establishing Camp A.A. Humphreys

Fort Belvoir is located on a small peninsula in the Potomac River approximately 18 miles south of Washington, DC. The land on which the installation is situated was part of a grant from James II of England to Lord Culpeper in 1688. The land descended to the sixth Lord Fairfax, who in 1734 offered the land to his cousin, Col. William Fairfax. Col. Fairfax completed his house, Belvoir, in 1741. Belvoir was destroyed by fire in 1783, and the ruins were further undermined by British bombardment during the War of 1812. The land surrounding the Belvoir ruin remained vacant for over a century.

In 1912, the U.S. War Department acquired 1,500 acres on what had been the Belvoir Plantation to establish a rifle range and summer camp for engineer troops stationed at Washington Barracks. The small training area, named Camp Belvoir, was located at the southern tip of the Belvoir peninsula and was used until America's entrance into the First World War.

World War I

Opening Day, Camp A.A. Humphreys [Fort Belvoir], 1917

With America's entrance into World War I, it became evident that a large camp was needed for training purposes. Camp Belvoir was recommended, and on Dec. 15, 1917, the Secretary of War approved the project for 16,000 troops, authorization to acquire land, and $3.3 million for construction. The cantonment was named Camp A.A. Humphreys in honor of the Civil War commander and former Chief of Engineers, Andrew A. Humphreys. Through purchases or condemnation, the Army acquired additional acreage during 1917 and 1918, expanding the original 1,500 acres to approximately 5,500 acres. In June of 1918, a second authorization was given to increase the cantonment capacity to 30,000, and this second wave of construction by the Quartermaster was completed by Oct. 31, 1918. Camp A.A. Humphreys soon became the ideal place for training. By the end of the war, over 50,000 enlisted men and 4,900 officer candidates had been trained at Camp A.A. Humphreys.       

At the end of the war, Camp A.A. Humphreys became a demobilization center where more than 14,000 men were prepared for their return to civilian life. Instead of being disassembled like many other temporary Army installations established during World War I, the Army moved the Engineer School from Washington Barracks, DC, to Camp A.A. Humphreys.

Inter-War Period 1919-1939

400 Area, historic photo,
ca. 1920

When the Engineer School moved to Camp A.A. Humphreys, an immediate need for officer housing occurred. At first, an attempt was made to renovate World War I barracks into two-family housing. After four conversions, it was decided to construct single houses using surplus building materials from the war instead (400 Area). 1 The houses were located in accordance with the official 1919 revised plan of the engineer's original 1918 design for Camp A.A. Humphreys. These quarters were not located along the parade but in a separate development which followed the contours of the Belvoir peninsula.

In 1922, the installation was authorized permanent status and redesignated Fort Humphreys. Between 1921 and 1926, most funding for construction at military posts had been slashed. By 1926, the Army had initiated a nationwide building program to address concerns regarding the deplorable living conditions at its installations. Congress passed Public Law 45, which authorized the sale of 43 military installations and directed the money from the sale into The Military Post Construction Fund for the remaining installations.     

Parade, Camp A.A. Humphreys [Fort Belvoir], 1921

New planning concepts were used at Army installations with this building campaign. The new layouts aligned closer with the planning of industrial towns or college campuses than the traditional fort. The difference was especially noticeable in family housing, which was arranged in informal groupings for officers, non-commissioned officers, and students rather than in rows facing the parade. Also, standardized plans became prevalent, resulting in the implementation of a construction program using the most effective and economical means possible. Both of these historical themes can be seen during the 1920s and 1930s development of Fort Humphreys.   

Gerber Village single-family home, elevation, ca. 1930

By the 1920s, Fort Humphreys' original, hastily built temporary construction was deteriorating. When Fort Humphreys was designated with permanent status, the Corps of Engineers developed a plan. The revised plan retained the street layouts of the original cantonment plan. The Corps also introduced a large, centrally located parade. This plan, the first official plan for Fort Humphreys, was approved in 1927, and construction of barracks, post headquarters, officer housing, a theater, gymnasium, post-exchange, bakery, officers clubs, storehouses, magazines, roads, and walkways was undertaken. The style chosen for most of the base buildings was described as "a very attractive Virginia Colonial style, most appropriate for their location, and was considered the most appropriate option. The buildings were constructed of red brick with limestone fillings...." 2 Larger buildings were built with reinforced concrete skeletons, while components of some smaller buildings were wood frame with masonry veneer. By the spring of 1929, the installation was home to 70 officers, 750 enlisted men, and 350 civilians, including families of married officers and soldiers. The new construction at Fort Humphreys was laid out with the administrative and instructional buildings arranged along one side of the parade ground, with barracks, theater, gymnasium, post exchange, and post office in two squares on the opposite side. The non-commissioned officers' housing (Gerber Village) was arranged in two blocks behind the barracks area, while the officers' housing built in the early 1920s (400 Area) had been placed along a picturesque, curving road in a parklike setting. Warehouses and support buildings were located on the outskirts of the installation.

Belvoir Village, dining room interior, ca. 1935

In 1932, a new revised layout was approved. A large part of this revision was a new housing area for senior officers (Belvoir Village). During the Great Depression, Public Works Administration (PWA) projects completed most of the construction on military installations from 1934-1938.3 Most of these projects were officer and non-commissioned officer housing. Both Jadwin Loop Village and Gerber Village expanded in 1939 with the addition of row houses using PWA workers.

During this time period Fort Humphreys began to focus on the history of the site. Surveys and archeological excavations of the Belvoir Plantation started occurring in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s. In 1935, Fort Humphreys was renamed Fort Belvoir in reference to the former estate. By 1939, most permanent construction projects had stopped due to the mobilization efforts with the possibility of attack. 4

World War II 1940-1949

Map detail of Fort Belvoir, 1943, construction north of Route 1
Construction programs accelerated in 1940 with the outbreak of World War II in Europe and Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. The United States decided to begin preparing for the possibility of joining the conflict, and one of the actions performed was the expansion of Fort Belvoir by adding 3,000 acres north of U.S. Route 1, North Post, to make room for the new Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC), established at Fort Belvoir in March 1941. Housing (including Grays Hills Village and Youngs Village) and an 800-patient hospital were also constructed at this time. With the influx of inductees, a wave of temporary construction occurred in an attempt to house approximately 24,000 enlisted men and officers. A Temporary Emergency Construction Program began Oct. 21, 1940, to construct 643 new buildings. This construction project consisted of 281 barracks, 72 mess halls, 96 warehouses, 18 officers' quarters, 25 headquarters buildings, 18 recreation halls, a bakery, a cold storage plant, a laundry, an incinerator, three theaters, service clubs, a guest house, prison stockade, infirmaries, post exchanges, gasoline stations, dental clinics, classrooms, utility shops, power magazines, more repair shops, fire houses, filtration plant, and a 55-building hospital complete with central heating plant and enclosed walks connecting the wards and buildings. 5 Support utilities were also part of this building program, including roads, railroad construction, water mains, and power lines. The 800 patient-station hospital alone had quarters for 40 officers, 72 nurses and 324 enlisted men.

Grays Hill Village Nursery,
Nov. 18, 1960

The contractors on this project were Charles H. Tompkins Company of Washington, DC, and Potts and Callahan Construction Company of Baltimore. The architect-engineer was Slaughter, Saville and Blackburn Company Inc. of Richmond, Va. Around 12,000 men were employed at the peak of construction.      

Civilian defense workers required housing as they moved to new job locations. The Federal Public Housing Administration provided most of the housing needs at this time. Child care facilities were common in the villages designed at this time for working mothers, since women made up huge a portion of the work force.

Keeping up troop morale during the war years became almost as important as training. Fort Belvoir offered many entertainments, including dances, art classes, amateur theatrical productions, and sporting events. The newspaper was full of upbeat articles about life on post.     

Thermo-Con House, view of
the southwest corner

Once again, after the war, Fort Belvoir became a center for demobilization. In 1945, the Engineer Replacement Training Center and the Engineer Officer Candidate School were phased out, but both programs were brought back in the 1950s during the Korean Conflict and again in the 1960s with the Vietnam build-up. After World War II, a shift started to occur at Fort Belvoir from training to research and development. The Engineer Research and Development Laboratories (ERDL) were used to develop new technology. The Army experimented with standard house designs using new building materials in an effort to meet the Army's housing shortage (Thermo-Con House).

Cold War 1950-1990

Lewis Heights Village,1968

At the end of World War II, an estimated 15 million service personnel returned home to the United States, a country already in a housing shortage. A large peacetime fighting force had to be maintained due to the build-up of nuclear weapons after the war. The Wherry Act was put in place to help relieve some of the shortage. Within several months of the Wherry Act being signed in 1949, the Army proposed a 350-unit housing development at Fort Belvoir, Lewis Heights Village.  

The Korean War was another significant period in the history of Fort Belvoir. The Engineer Replacement Training Center was reopened and began training troops for Korea. The center continued in operation through September 1953, providing training to over 30,783 engineers. The Engineer Officer Candidate School was also in session during this time. The school, which functioned for three years, commissioned over 2,000 engineer officers. 6

From fiscal years 1955 through 1957, Congress authorized and appropriated funds for about 10,000 new housing units for the Army. This volume of construction with appropriated funds was unusual, but it served to bridge the gap between two large domestic privatization programs.7 

Dogue Creek Village, move-in day, Sept. 28, 1956

During the summer of 1955, construction of 300 housing units was in process at Fort Belvoir, with 276 units for non-commissioned officers and the remaining 24 for officers. The total worth of the housing units was over $3 million. Dogue Creek Village was part of this.        

Fort Belvoir opened the DeWitt Hospital in 1957, which provided regional healthcare services for a total of 500 patients, including facilities for 250 patients in-house. Dewitt Hospital was one of seven hospitals that Congress authorized in 1953 to be built in the Army modernization program. The SM-1 Nuclear Plant also became operational in 1957. The plant generated electricity for commercial use and reduced the use of fossil fuels. The nuclear facility was used until 1973, when it was decommissioned.


Fairfax Village, elevation

By the time the Capehart Act passed in August 1955, Fort Belvoir was still in need of additional family housing. The Department of Defense approved an additional Title VIII project of 618 units at Fort Belvoir, Colyer Village, Fairfax Village, George Washington Village, and River Village. Initially, these housing projects were intended to be similar to Lewis Heights Village, with rowhouse buildings containing four, six, and eight units. However, by August 1956, the Army determined that Fort Belvoir's needs would be better served with duplex buildings. The initial project was redesigned, and an additional $2 million was added to the project budget. These changes were influenced by the recognition that the proposed units were too small and did not comply with the recommended square footages for each of the military ranks. Additionally, multifamily-style buildings as outlined in the original proposal were assessed as the least desirable building type. Also by this time, a new public law, Public Law 1020, had been put in place for Capehart projects to make use of modular design. 8 

George Washington Village, general view, 1968

The next major building campaign came in the mid 1970s. Fort Belvoir received a face lift with the addition of a new enlisted barracks complex on North Post. The face lift also included the consolidation of company administration and supply buildings, as well as the construction of branch dispensary and PX facilities, a central energy plant, gymnasium, chapel, new mess hall, an indoor pool, theater, recreation center, and a battalion and regimental headquarters. In addition, some of the existing family housing received upgrades such as air conditioning and complete kitchen improvements.

Congress also funded some 1,445 new units, with 850 earmarked for Army personnel, including 628 three-, four- and five-bedroom townhouses and duplexes and 222 two-bedroom garden apartments. Ninety units were built for officers, 60 for senior personnel and the remaining 700 for E4s and E5s. The Navy and Coast Guard received 595 duplexes and townhouses, with 25 of them for officers and the

Woodlawn Village, elevation

remainder for enlisted personnel.9  This was the first time that Fort Belvoir housing was not intended to house installation personnel. Woodlawn Village is the only Fort Belvoir housing area which initially offered housing to all five branches of the military.   Also during this construction phase, many additional facilities were instituted at Fort Belvoir, including the U.S. Army Reserve Center, Communications/ Electronics Evaluation and Testing Agency, Coastal Engineering Research Center, and the Topographic Research and Development Laboratory. The Defense Systems Management College (DSMC) and the Defense Mapping School (DMS) both became operational in the 1970s.

Privatization of Housing: 1990s-present

During the 1980s and 1990s, the installation expanded again with the relocation of Department of Logistics Agency (DLA) and Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) to Fort Belvoir. In the 1990s, the Army closed 112 of its installations in the U.S. and realigned another 27, moving many functions to Fort Belvoir.

In 1996, Congress passed Public Law 104-106. This provided a process for military installations to leverage private capital in order to enter into a limited partnership with a private developer to construct, renovate, operate, and maintain housing (Residential Communities Initiative, RCI). Its goal was to eliminate inadequate military housing in the United States by 2007.

During the late 1990s, Fort Belvoir's existing housing inventory totaled 2,070 units. In 2003, the military housing at Fort Belvoir became privatized under the Army's Residential Communities Initiative program.

Cedar Grove Village

The intent of the program was to provide military families the same quality of life in housing as the civilians they defend. The Army chose Clark Realty Capital as the development partner to take on this mission at Fort Belvoir. On Dec. 1, 2003, the Army and Clark formed a new entity, Fort Belvoir Residential Communities LLC (FBRC), which owns the housing at Fort Belvoir. Through FBRC various members of partnership and service providers oversee all of the day-to-day construction and operation activities.

Fort Belvoir's family housing is an important part of the installations historical context. The existing, historic buildings provide valuable insight into the history, architecture, and domestic life of the installation.

1 Muriel Zimm Ray. The Well Planned Post (Masters Thesis, Washington, DC: George Washington University, 1994), 124.
2 Fort Humphreys Virginia. (Fort Belvoir, Va.: privately printed, 1930), 20.
3 Zimm Ray, The Well Planned Post, 32.
4 Ibid, 50.
5 Belvoir Castle June 4, 1941.
6 Douglas J. Harnsberger and Sandra Hubbard."National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Fort Belvoir Historic District (Boundary Increase)." (Richmond, Va.: Harnsberger & Associates, 1996), Sect. 8, 7-8.
7 Dr. William C. Baldwin, Four Housing Privatization Programs: A History of the Wherry, Capehart, Section 801, and Section 802 Family Housing Programs in the Army (Alexandria, Va.: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Office of History, October 1996).
8 Kathryn M. Kuranda et al. Housing an Army: The Wherry and Capehart Era Solutions to the Postwar Family Housing Shortage (1949-1962), by R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc. (Frederick, Md.: US Army Environmental Center, 2003), A1.8.
9 The Engineer . Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1975, pg. 26.

Fort Belvoir designed and constructed by engineers:
Brian Lione
Rank and post planning: Brian Lione
The area before Fort Belvoir:
Michael Groeneveld
Self-sufficiency before WWII:
Michael Groeneveld
Early post infrastructure: Michael Groeneveld
Good design of WWII temporary construction:
Briane Lione
Fewer enlisted men on post: John Strang
Evolution of Fort Belvoir reflected in buildings:
Brian Lione
A sense of place:
Brian Lione
Fort Belvoir retains historic integrity while continuing to develop:
Michael Groeneveld
No longer remotely located:
William C. Baldwin
Fort Belvoir as a model for the future: Brian Lione


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