The Modern Era
Fort Belvoir is interlaced with the history of our great nation. Founded on the banks of the Potomac River and located adjacent to historic Mount Vernon, Fort Belvoir traces its beginning from the Douge Indians, serving as the home of Colonel William Fairfax (Belvoir Manor), providing a place of growth and learning for young George Washington, to hosting the Department of Defense’s largest construction effort with over $4 billion from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act.
In 1915, the U.S. Army began utilizing the Belvoir peninsula as an engineer training facility. In that year the Engineer School at Washington Barracks (now Fort McNair) began conducting summer training exercises on the government owned parcel on which Belvoir now sits. America’s entry into World War I in April 1917 led to the first wave of military construction, and resulted in the foundation of Camp Humphreys, named for Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, a distinguished engineer and administrator. During the Civil War, Humphreys served as chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac, and as commanding general of the II Army Corps. From 1866-79, he served as Chief of Engineers.
Plans called for the construction of 790 temporary wood-frame buildings. Several schools were operated on the facility. By the end of the war in November 1918, over 50,000 enlisted engineer soldiers and 4,900 officer candidates were trained at Camp Humphreys. At war’s end, the camp became a demobilization center where troops were prepared for their return to civilian life. The camp retained a small garrison after the war. In 1919, the 5th Engineers from Camp Humphreys were called to Washington D.C. to help quell racially motivated civil disturbances.
By 1919 the camp had grown from its original 1,500 acres to approximately 6,000 acres. The Army’s commitment to the post was demonstrated by the official relocation of the Engineer School from Washington Barracks to Camp Humphreys in 1919. In 1922 the camp was designated a permanent post and renamed Fort Humphreys. Throughout the inter-war years the Engineer School trained new engineer officers in the technical requirements of their duties. Programs offered included forestry, road and railroad construction, construction, mining, surveying, pontoon construction, photography, printing and cooking.
One of the more dramatic changes to Fort Humphreys during this period was its physical transformation. In 1926 the Army initiated an ambitious nation-wide building program designed to address deplorable living conditions at the nation’s military installations. Most of the temporary wooden buildings were demolished, and new permanent brick buildings were erected. New buildings were constructed in a Georgian Colonial Revival style. During the 1920s, efforts were made to clear and refurbish the Fairfax Manor ruins site and grave. Despite great public interest, the Belvoir Manor was not reconstructed; however, in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt was persuaded to rename Fort Humphreys as Fort Belvoir to re-establish the installation’s colonial links. The name Belvoir, a French word meaning “beautiful to see,” had originally been used by Colonel William Fairfax to describe his colonial plantation.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 resulted in another large expansion of the post. An additional 3,000 acres north of Route 1 were acquired to make room for the Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC) on North Post. In March 1941, the ERTC began to provide basic military engineer training to draftees. After mid-1942, Belvoir began training soldiers in numerous engineer specialties. By the end of the war in 1945, the ERTC at Fort Belvoir had trained roughly 147,000 engineer troops. The Engineer Board, which had been created at the installation in 1924, continued to make great strides in testing and developing new engineer equipment. The massive influx of inductees at Fort Belvoir prompted another wave of temporary construction during World War II. These “temporary” structures were only designed to last for five years. Many survived and were used well into the 1980s. At the end of the war, Fort Belvoir once again became a demobilization center.
In general, emphasis at Fort Belvoir in the 1950s began shifting from training to research and development. Throughout the decade, the Engineer Research and Development Laboratories (ERDL) were involved in experimentation with a wide range of technical and military applications. During the 1960s, the primary focus of research at Fort Belvoir shifted to the development of Army vehicles. Between 1950 and 1980, the post began playing host to a variety of organizations including the DeWitt Hospital, the Defense Systems Management College, and the Defense Mapping School.
Fort Belvoir remained the home of the Engineer School until 1988. Due to a shortage of land for training at Belvoir, the Engineer School re-located to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, thus ending the 76-year association between the Engineer School and Belvoir. The 8,600 acre post became an installation of the Military District of Washington. The post housed tenants from all armed forces, as well as a number of educational facilities.
By 2003, the installation came under the supervision of the Installation Management Agency, a new office designed to manage all garrisons throughout the world-wide Army. Belvoir has been designated a Strategic Sustaining Base for the Department of Defense in the National Capital Region. As time goes by, Belvoir continues to expand its mission and support to the armed services.