Camp Murphy

Imagine it’s 1943, in the midst of World War II, and you’ve stopped in at a lunch counter in Stuart, Florida. In making small talk with the uniformed soldier sitting next to you, you learn that he’s stationed at nearby Camp Murphy. You ask what he’s training for, and he shrugs and nonchalantly replies that he’s in radio school.

As the old adage goes, that’s what they all say. In reality, Camp Murphy was home to a secret radar training program established by the 801st Signal Training Regiment of the U.S. Army. The Army Signal Corps had been experimenting with radar since the 1930s at its school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. With a war underway, however, the need for trained radar technicians was growing rapidly, so the Corps decided to open up a new location someplace with better year-round weather.

Aerial view of Camp Murphy (1942).

Aerial view of Camp Murphy (1942).

The Martin County site the Corps selected was perfect for the task at hand. The camp was constructed on a tract of about 8,000 acres located between U.S. Highway 1 and the Florida East Coast Railway near Hobe Sound. The dense forest covering much of the land was ideal for concealing the operation. As new buildings were constructed, the builders painted them a dull green to help them blend in with their surroundings. Roads criss-crossed the property, but in a haphazard pattern rather than in a grid. No trees were cut unless it was absolutely necessary. The idea was to camofluage the installation as well as possible.

The camp was named for U.S. Army Colonel William Herbert Muprhy, a pioneer researcher in the radar field whose aircraft had been shot down over Indonesia by the Japanese. Construction began in March 1942 and was far enough along for the camp to open in less than three months’ time.

A classroom building once used at Camp Murphy (1957).

A classroom building once used at Camp Murphy (1957).

Once complete, Camp Murphy was almost a city unto its own. It had a railway station, post office, cinema, library, and bowling alley, in addition to the usual accouterments of an Army training base. Although the soldiers training at the camp traveled often to nearby Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound, and Stuart, they were sworn to keep the true purpose of the base secret. This was also the case for the numerous local civilians who worked on the base as nurses, secretaries, carpenters, and general laborers.

The average training course at Camp Murphy required about five months to complete. Classes on radio and radar operation were interspersed with target practice and combat training, aided by the dense vegetation covering the property.

By the end of 1944, the camp had served its purpose, and the Army Signal Corps chose to close up shop. Most of the camp’s equipment was shipped up to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, or to Camp Crowder in Missouri. The buildings and property became surplus, subject to disposition by the U.S. War Assets Administration.

Kitching Creek at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, once home to Camp Murphy (1958).

Kitching Creek at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, once home to Camp Murphy (1958).

After the war, several possible uses were proposed for the camp. In 1946, state officials contemplated using the base as a new tuberculosis sanatorium. The idea was eventually withdrawn, on account of Camp Murphy’s isolation and the difficulty of getting personnel and supplies to the area. Senator George Smathers offered the installation as a candidate when the Air Force began looking for a new location for an academy. Although Senator Smathers did his best to sell Camp Murphy and its seasonable climate, this plan also fell through.

Ultimately, Camp Murphy ended up becoming a state park in 1950. It was called Jonathan Dickinson State Park, named after a man who was shipwrecked in the area in 1696 with his family. Native Americans discovered the family and other survivors, but permitted them to travel north to their home in Pennsylvania.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park (1960).

Jonathan Dickinson State Park (1960).

Florida made many contributions to the war effort during World War II. Learn more in our World War II unit in the Online Classroom.

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17 thoughts on “Camp Murphy

  1. I grew up in Jupiter, Florida. As a teenager, my friend Ronald Dickson and I would spend hours going through all of the abandoned buildings at Camp Murphy, Florida (1956 +/-). Explored the rifle range, and found buckets of spend bullets, old rotting targets. rusted and rotten gun parts. Some of the old barracks still had the old steel bed frames. Wish I would have taken some photos. Skip Gladwin Jupiter, Fla.

  2. My father was stationed there. I have many photos of him at the camp along with his ‘class book’ which has many photos of the facility.

    • My father taught radar there. I would love to see some group photos. One may even include my dad. His name was Francis G. Laffoday. He went by Frank.

    • Hi Richard, my relative served there. Does your class book have names listed in the photos? I am looking for a picture of my relative


  3. I’m just now going through my father’s war time letters to his parents and I’m reading of his time at Camp Murphy and a fish fry/picnic that he went to at the U.S.O. at Hobe Sound. He was from north Georgia and complained about Florida being too hot!

  4. My late husband, John Hamilton, was a radar instructor at Camp Murphy. He entered service in early 1942, and after boot camp at Miami Beach, he was sent up to the University of Minnesota for six months of intensive training in electrical engineering before being brought back to Stuart. He took me to see what was left of the camp about 20 years ago, but there wasn’t much to see.

    Although he never spoke much about the war years, he did remember pre-dawn workouts on the beach, and the constant presence of U-boats just offshore.

    John’s commanding officer liked him so well that he kept deferring any orders to transfer him abroad. He served as Staff Sergeant there until the base was closed. He then spent some time at Lackland AF Base, and was discharged in 1946 to go home to his wife and toddler in eastern Iowa.

  5. I am looking for photos of any of surplus WW2 cottages from Elgin in Northwest Florida. Also, I would like to find out who the WW2 vets were from a Gulf Breeze, Florida.

  6. From the late 1950s until 1969 the Smithsonian Institution’s Astrophysical Observatory operated a satellite tracking station located by one of the three large underground water reservoirs in the Park. One of the buildings we used was, I believe, one left over from the Camp Murphy days. The building was still there as of 1992, and may in fact be there as of this day. The water “tank” was empty when we were there, we would climb down inside it and walk around just because it was there, I guess. Nothing inside but the old wooden baffles.

    • In the late 50s my father was scoutmaster with old boy scout Troop 318 out of Biscayne Gardens. We camped at JP and as boys will do went down into some of the underground structures. I always thought they were for storage or bunkers of some sort and find out now they were water cisterns. Thanks for that info Mr.Squires. We also enjoyed shining gators and getting into trouble.

  7. I just found in my uncles things a Menu from Thursday 25 November 1943 Thanksgiving Dinner 801st Signal training Regiment Camp Murphy.

  8. In some old papers I have that belonged to my grandmother I found the following for my dad just this morning:

    W. E. Hayes cpl
    Co. D 801st Sig. Ser. Reg.
    Camp Murphy, FL.

    I googled Camp Murphy and found this website. it’s so interesting to read this about his service. He ended up in Trinidad during the war. I always knew he had something to do with radar and radios, but I never knew about this secret training school. Thank you for this story!

  9. My Dad was stationed at Camp Murphy in WWII. He was William H. Duffey from Painesville , OH. I have lived in Palm City for forty years. Dad lived outside of Houston TX. He became an engineer. He said they ‘slept with the alligators in the Everglades” Think he was there in the earlier days of the camp at that rate. Served in the Pacific. Said until his dying day they couldn’t talk about what they did. He was also sent to “TV School” as he put it outside Knoxville. He served in Australia, New Guinea, the islands near there and the Philippines.He talked about being on an aircraft carrier and “fixing the Admirals radio. DIdn’t find out until he was dead that he had debooby trapped the telephone exchange in Manila. When asked what he did in the war, he would say “I strung telephone wire out ahead of everyone else.”

  10. How would I find a roster of who was stationed there? Im trying to find out where my grandfather was. All I know was he was stationed in Florida and he use to tell me how he hated marching in the sand on the beach. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

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