VAST PARK EMERGING FROM SAMPSON'S
OLD DRILL FIELDS
SAMPSON -- Twenty-five years ago the echoes of barked commands and the stirring cadence of marching feet drifted over Seneca Lake as countless thousands young men trained here for World War II Navy service.
In 1950 other thousands of young men were funneled through guarded gates and emerged a few months later as members of the Air Force ready for a role in the Korean war.
And in the late 1940's it was used as Sampson College, created to help educate returning World War II veterans Today, this sprawling former military base vibrates again with new activity but this time the direction is toward pleasure and not war.
Eventually it will emerge
as the largest -- in terms of acreage -- of the 13 Finger Lakes State
Parks. Although the park has been state owned since 1960, many
phases of the master plan remain to be completed. Present plans
may be expanded if future use
Park officials point out that use -- not size -- is a vital factor in determining a park's status. For instance, Allegany State Park contains 58,000 acres but may attract fewer people than much smaller parks.
Sampson's start as a state park goes back to Oct. 15, 1960 when 1,251 acres of the former military establishment were acquired from the federal government. Later the acreage was increased to 1,522.
After the purchase, limited funds for development and improvement and the problems of moving over 300 surplus military buildings, delayed opening of the park to the public for nearly four years.
On July 1, 1964, the public was allowed for limited use.
Despite wholesale demolition work there are still scores of original structures left to remind the visitor that once this was the second largest naval training base in the world.
Built in 1940, at the cost of $50 million it was named for Palmyra-born Rear Adm. William T. Sampson of the Spanish-American War fame.
Units on the base were named for such Navy figures as Rear Adm. Issac Kidd and Capt. Mervyn S. Bennison, who died on the battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor; Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan and Capt. Cassin Young, killed on the cruiser San Francisco in the Solomon Islands campaign, John O. Edwards, ship's radio gunner killed during the battle of the Coral Sea, and late Rear Adm. George Dewey, Spanish-American War hero. Streets on the base were named for other naval heroes.
Sampson had 110 barracks, 5 huge drill halls, 2 barracks for Navy women, numerous fire stations, a brig, warehouses, post exchanges, officers clubs, a spacious theater, and the only chapel of its kind anywhere -- a rotating altar for Catholic, Protestant and Jewish services.
At peak the population was 35,000 enlisted men, with 10,000 civilian and other employees to care for the needs of the trainees. There were 22 chaplains.
In 90 days a second class seaman was graduated with a base pay of $50 per month. In a 16-week course, third class petty officers received their chevrons and $78 per month.
The food bill was $15,000 a day with 300 cooks and butchers and 100 bakers preparing the meals.
A 1,500 bed hospital was built in six months at a cost of $5 million. It had 44 ward buildings and 8 operating units. Many men wounded in operations against the Germans and Japanese were hospitalized here The hospital section is now part of Willard State Hospital.
In 1950 Sampson became an Air Force training camp and was renamed Sampson Air Force Base. It continued for about eight years as an Air Force training center
Vandalism followed closing of the base. Windows were shattered, plumbing fixtures were stolen or damaged. Weeds and grass now choke right of way where freight trains came to Sampson over specially constructed spur tracks of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
The Brig, the only building constructed of brick and termed by many the best looking structure on the base, still remains. A steel fence still encloses it. Eventually it may used as a Lake Country museum.
Many of the firehouses are still standing; but all but one are empty. The exception has been converted into the Sampson State Park office.
Some cement block or permanent buildings are being used for storage of park machinery and off-season storing of picnic tables, benches and summer furniture.
Work is being completed on underground electric distribution system in the "F" sector for trailers and camping at a cost of $117,763. Mapped out are locations for nearly 300 trailers or campers.
Work is expected to begin soon on a $777,632 improvement contract which includes construction of a 126-boat marina and bathing beach development. Les Strong, Inc. of Whitney Point has the contract with a target completion date of June 1, 1969.
The park boasts of three miles of Seneca Lake shoreline and with the popularity of boating, it is expected the demand for mooring space will exceed the dockage space in a short time.
A launching ramp and small boat harbor site also are in the plans. New roads leading to camping areas are now being constructed. A spacious pavilion with a huge fireplace has been build on a knoll near the lake shore and is ready for use. Several comfort stations have been constructed.
Completion date of the entire park is not known.