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Westchester Secret: Who Knew New Rochelle Had An Infamous Island?

Photo of troops at Fort Slocum on Davids Island. Photo Credit: New Rochelle Public Library
Davids Island, then known as Fort Slocum, was one of the biggest recruiting depots east of the Mississippi River. Photo Credit: Creative Commons
The water tower is pretty much all's that's left on Davids Island. Photo Credit: Barbara Davis
Much of Davids Island is now in ruin. Photo Credit: Barbara Davis

Davids Island, which resides off New Rochelle’s shore, has a history that dates back to two of America’s greatest conflicts: The Civil War and World War I.

The 78-acre island, off-limits to the public, was home to one of the biggest WWI recruiting depots east of Mississippi River and dates back to before the Great War.

It was purchased by Thomas Pell, the man who purchased the Pelham area, in 1654 from the Siwanoy Native American tribe. He used it primarily for farming and pasture until the Huguenots settled on it. Later, it was sold to Ink Manufacturer Thaddeus Davids who bought it in order to expand his business, but never did.

The island was then acquired by the U.S. Government War Department who built DeCamp General Hospital, which became one of the Army’s largest hospitals. It was used to help wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War and eventually Confederate too. It also served as a POW camp.

Its most productive time came in 1917 when WWI started and the island was named Fort Slocum after Major General Henry Slocum. It brought in thousands of men by train who wished to enlist in the Army; more, in fact, than they could handle.

One of the first days of operation brought approximately 800 recruits with thousands more following, according to New Rochelle Historian Barbara Davis.

Davis, who has written extensively on the city’s involvement in WWI said recruits were left stranded during a frigid December and the surplus had to board with area residents from New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Pelham.

Despite its militaristic history, the Island was closed in 1965 and was abandoned with most of its bases and buildings torn down.

Many developers, including President Donald Trump, have looked to build something on it, but nothing has come to fruition. And, in fact, most folks have no idea it exists.

You can read more about New Rochelle's role in WWI by clicking here .

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