The History of Fort Hancock
Since 1764 the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, America's oldest operating lighthouse has guided ships
along the Jersey shore into the New York/New Jersey Harbor.
The "Proof Battery" was established in 1874 to test new and converted guns along the north
end of the Hook. The firing range extended 3,000 yards south along the beach.
Because New York Harbor was America's most important port, Sandy Hook was chosen as a
site for America's first concrete gun batteries. Here the Army constructed, its first and only,
steam-powered "lift gun battery." Batter Potter named in honor of Civil War General Joseph
Potter, was completed in 1895 and on October 30th, the war department designated the
fortifications at Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock. From 1898 to 1972, this venerable old fort
defended the New York Harbor first from an assault by sea and than by air attack.
The formidable coast defenses at Fort Hancock were under construction during the Spanish
American War and were being greatly expanded as World War 1 loomed on the horizon.
When WW1 introduced the airplane, the U.S. Army added anti-aircraft guns to the existing
gun batteries to protect its coastal artillery fortifications from enemy air attack. By World
War 2, and the advent of new weaponry, the concept of protecting harbors with heavy artillery
became obsolete. WW2 changed two decades of activities of a peacetime army and saw the post
expand from a major coastal defense to an important anti-aircraft site. In 1954 the army
started replacing guns with new Nike Air Defense Missiles, designed to intercept and destroy
fast, high altitude warplanes before they would reach the Coastline. The introduction of
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) led to the deactivation of entire Nike Missile
System, and in 1972, Fort Hancock was decommissioned and turned over to the National Park
The Sandy Hook Proving Ground
From 1874 until 1920, the sound of gunfire and the smell of gunpowder filled the air at the U.S.
Army's first proving ground at Sandy Hook. Formally established on August 7, 1874, by
authority of the Secretary of War, the Sandy Hook Proving Ground was in full operation by
1876 with the opening of the Officer's Quarters. The Sandy Hook Peninsula met most of the
requirements for a long sought experimental testing area for heavy ordinace and was already
governement owned. Originally, support buildings were kept to a minimum. The exception
was the Officer's Quaters, a large brick, Second Empire Style Victorian that overlooked teh
Proof Battery and the Atlantic Ocean and was built as a bed and breakfast to host dignitaries,
officers and some of our nations's first "defense contractors." The Sandy Hook Proving
Ground continued its operations as a weapons test site until 1920.
General order #57, dated October 30, 1895 actually designated the fortifications as Fort
Hancock, in honor of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of Civil War fame. A dual
military command existed with the Sandy Hook Proving Gorund continuing to test ordinace
equipment while the Coast Artillery Corps took over the harbor defense mission of the New
All above information was provided by www.thefortatsandyhook.net