The Training Center at Cape May has an interesting history from its establishment in 1917 as a Navy “Section Base.” The base was first established for vessel support, communication points for coastal patrols, and training.The buildings used on the base actually originated as a an amusement center, with the skating rink becoming a mess hall and sleeping quarters, among other neat conversions.
In 1918, the old wooden structures on the base burned to the ground and were replaced by more modern structures (for the time). After WWI, the Navy was pushing into their interest in large dirigible airships, or balloons. An impressive custom hangar coming in at 700 feet long and over 100 feet tall was added to house a humongous airship being built by the British, called the ZR-2. Unfortunately, the ZR-2 crashed on its test flight and the Navy lost all interest in the craft.
In 1924, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived to the base for the first time and established air facilities that would be used by United States Customs. When the prohibition came around, several cutters were assigned to Cape May where they were tasked with catching rum runners off the coast of New Jersey. When the prohibition era ended, the Coast Guard left Cape May almost entirely, aside from a small rescue group still assigned to the base. There was even a short period of time where a portion of the base was put into use as a civilian airport.
When WWII became visible on the horizon, the Navy returned to Cape May to train pilots to fly from aircraft carriers. Upon their return, the Navy also had a large airstrip added to the base. Around this same time, the Coast Guard heavily increased their presence on the base as well. Specifically, they added to their anti-submarine group, air and sea rescue group, and coastal patrol group.
Finally, in 1946, the Navy left for good and the Coast Guard took over the entirety of the base. In 1948, all Coast Guard recruit training on the east coast was moved to the base at Cape May. Today, the base at Cape May is the only accession point for new recruits in the Coast Guard. It is also the 5th largest base in the Coast Guard and has about 4,000 recruits pass through each year.
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