Sewell Point, the area occupied by the
Training Center, has a long history of naval presence. During the
American Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century, Cape May
Sound was used as a harbor of refuge. In 1917, the Navy established
a "section base" in Cape May, to provide training, vessel support
and communication facilities for coastal defense. Initially, the
Navy converted an abandoned amusement center, built along the
oceanfront, for military use. The old skating rink became the mess
hall and sleeping quarters, the stage was made into a galley, the
"human roulette wheel" -- a scrub table and the "barrel of fun"
became a brig. When the old wooden structure burned down in 1918,
the Navy built standard military facilities along the harbor front
(some of these buildings still stand today).
After World War I, the base was adapted to accommodate dirigibles. The largest hanger in the world, 700 feet long and over 100 feet tall, was built to accommodate an airship under construction in Britain. Unfortunately, the ZR-2 crashed on its test flight and "lighter-than-air" craft were never fully adopted for Navy use.
In 1924, the U.S. Coast Guard (see History) occupied the base and established air facilities for planes used in support of U.S. Customs Service efforts. During the Prohibition era, several cutters were assigned to Cape May to foil rumrunners operating off the New Jersey coast. After Prohibition, the Coast Guard all but abandoned Cape May leaving a small air/sea rescue contingent. For a short period of time (1929-1934), part of the base was used as a civilian airport. With the advent of World War II, a larger airstrip was constructed and the Navy returned to train aircraft carrier pilots. The over the water approach simulated carrier landings at sea. The Coast Guard also increased its Cape May forces for coastal patrol, anti-submarine warfare, air/sea rescue and buoy service. In 1946, the Navy relinquished the base to the Coast Guard.
In 1948, all entry level training on the
east coast was moved to the U.S. Coast Guard Recruit Receiving
Station in Cape May. The Coast Guard consolidated all recruit
training functions in Cape May in 1982.
For over fifty years, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May has fulfilled its mission:
Training Center Cape May builds the enlisted corps by preparing America’s volunteers for success in the Coast Guard. We provide apprentices who are willing and ready to learn their profession. We enhance the quality of life and readiness of those we serve.
Although modern training facilities have replaced most of the original Naval Base buildings, the Coast Guard is respectful of the history of Sewell Point and our host city.