San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

San Mateo County Places - Camp Fremont

Few of today’s San Mateo County residents know exactly where Camp Fremont once stood, but for about 18 months, from July 12, 1917 until it was dismantled in early 1919 it was a teeming World War I Training Camp. At it’s peak nearly 27,000 personnel were resident on the base. In all more than 43,000 soldiers passed through the little town of Menlo Park (former population 2300). 

Menlo Park Historical Association Collections
Camp Fremont - Easter 1918
Country living was disturbed by the sounds of guns, canon and grenades exploding as troops trained for their eminent war duty. Menlo Park was chosen as the training site due to it’s similarity to the French terrain where troops were supposedly heading. Located from the El Camino Real to the Alameda de Las Pulgas and from Valparaiso to the San Francisquito Creek, Camp Fremont covered approximately 25,000 acres (15 Square miles). 

Besides cavalry and infantry there were horses and mules which were housed further east at the 332nd Auxiliary Remount Depot on Ravenswood, near the camp hospital. Of the 16 training centers erected by the War department, Camp Fremont was the largest east of the Mississippi. Every idle carpenter on the peninsula was put to work. In all more than 700 men were put to work turning over 100 railroad cars of lumber into temporary buildings. Barracks consisted of wooden floors and sidewalls topped with canvas tents. Camp Fremont’s tent city covered more than 1000 acres. 150 Southern Pacific workers laid spur track from the main line to the middle of camp. El Camino Real was paved to accommodate the increased traffic, and Menlo Park became known as one of the worst traffic bottlenecks on the peninsula.. 

Suddenly every available store front was occupied by merchants from throughout the Bay Area. A movie theater, post office, church and library were built. Beltramo’s Winery and all taverns within 5 miles of the base were declared dry by order of the army and the county. Sequoia High School opened a branch on the base offering classes in English, arithmetic, shorthand, typing and accounting but low attendance caused the program to fold. 

Stanford University, worried about the proximity of so many men to their co-eds, stopped their objections when two companies of soldiers were assigned to the duty of making sure that no soldiers invaded Stanford’s borders and no Co-eds infiltrated Tent City. Shortly after the building started the war department halted the effort for three months. The original troops, the 41st Infantry Division National Guard from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming were moved east to Camp Greene, but then the 8 Division, Regular Army was transferred in and remained until the dismantling. 

The troops which had trained to join the war efforts in France never did reach Europe. Some 5000, however, did serve time in Siberia. Michael Svanevik’s article "When ‘the forgotten army’ went to Siberia", The San Mateo Times, Friday, Aug 19, 1988 pg B3, tells a little of the tale of the Siberian intervention. 

In Dec 1918, just 18 months after it was erected Camp Fremont was abandoned and the land reverted to it’s previous owners. During those short months 43,000 men had been trained. But the efforts of the 8 Army Corp of Engineers had permanently changed the once rustic town of Menlo Park.  Paved roads, water and gas services encouraged new growth. Another legacy was the more than a million pounds of lead that were removed from the hills as they were developed. 

Today a few remainders of the 1000 plus Camp buildings dot the landscape of Menlo Park. The popular McArthur Park restaurant and the Oasis Beer Garden are housed in remnants of the vast camp and the Veterans Center on Willow Road was the base hospital. 

Many of the 43000 men who served at Camp Fremont were recent emigres to the United States. In accordance with legislation passed at the time of the Civil War, the naturalization process was changed to honor their efforts for their new country. In all nearly 3200 men took advantage of the opportunity to become United States citizens before the base closed. SMCGS has indexed the Camp Fremont Naturalization Records 
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