The Sandy Hook Proving Ground
A place to try out new weapons
More than two decades before Fort Hancock was commissioned in 1895, the U.S. Ordnance Department tested new and experimental weapons at Sandy Hook.
The "proving ground," a term for where weapons might be tested, was established in 1874. Less than ten years earlier, the Civil War had introduced several new innovations in weaponry. Rifled cannon fired pointed-nosed projectiles farther and faster than cannonballs. Iron clad warships mounted guns that could easily destroy the walls of a traditional fort. The Army needed a place to test its own new weapons.
Sandy Hook held many attractive features for the Army. The Federal Government already owned the land, which provided flat and open areas for testing. Sandy Hook was distant enough to be far from towns but close enough to large cities and transportation by water.
Several red brick buildings, including structures used as maintenance buildings and an Officers Club in later years, were built as part of the Proving Ground. When Fort Hancock was commissioned in 1895 as a Coast Artillery Post, it shared the peninsula with the Proving Ground. View images of the Proving Ground and its buildings here.
The "Proof Battery," located at the northeastern end of Sandy Hook, had a 3,000 yard range extending southward. For longer range tests, guns were fired out into the ocean. Tests were not only completed on new guns but also on gun powder, artillery shells, fuses and primers. The Proof Battery was relocated in 1900 because of Fort Hancock's need for the location to build a gun battery. The new Proof Battery was built southeast of its old location.
In 1889, a narrow gauge railroad was constructed to bring equipment and guns from the docks to the proof battery. In 1893, a standard gauge railroad was completed to the mainland and connected with commercial railroad lines.
In 1903, the Sandy Hook Proving Ground became a permanent installation. It continued to test weapons through World War I. In 1919, the facility closed and the function was moved to Aberdeen, Maryland.
A SAFETY NOTE: Unexploded ordnances (UXOs) are still found from time to time at Fort Hancock and the old Proving Ground, including on the beach. Some of these explosives are still "live." If you see something old and metallic sticking up from the beach, DO NOT TOUCH IT or try to move it. Instead, call Dispatch at 732-872-5900 IMMEDIATELY. Also, please stay out of closed areas. They are closed for a reason!
For a site bulletin on the history of the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, click here.
The Sandy Hook Proving Ground is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Proving Ground National Historic Landmark. View the Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Proving Ground Historic District Nomination Form.