Where Were You in 1917? | The History of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center

By Kevin Kubik

When I was growing up in Hopelawn, NJ only three miles from the Edison Facility, my parents, who grew up in nearby Perth Amboy, would tell stories from their childhood, of soldiers marching over the Raritan River Bridge on their way to Europe to fight in World War II.  Little did I know at that time that I would spend 30 years of my adult life working in the very facility that those soldiers departed from on their way to war.

Google Maps view of ammunition bunkers along the Raritan River

EPA’s Edison Environmental Center, located in what was once known as the Raritan Arsenal, has a storied past. It was commissioned in 1917 as the Raritan Arsenal and contained 275 buildings, most of which were ammunition magazines.  Its location next to the Raritan River made it an ideal ammunition facility as ships could easily be loaded and sent to points east during both World Wars. Many of the ammunition bunkers are still visible on Google Maps.

In its glory days, the facility occupied more than 3,000 acres and included what is today known as the Raritan Center Industrial Park, Middlesex County College, Edison County Park, 300 housing units developed into the College park Complex and the remaining facility belonging to EPA and the Government Services Administration (GSA).

Right before WWII, several warehouses were built on the facility and the Army started to assemble tanks and small arms.

Jeeps getting ready to be shipped.

They also began test firing machine guns and calibrated bomb sites utilized by the Army Air Corps (as the Air Force was called back then) in their bombers.

When WWII ended, several more warehouses were built to store the leftover military equipment until it was determined how to dispose of it.  In the 1960’s, the Army closed the arsenal and started selling off the property.  More than 2,300 acres were sold to developers for the Raritan Center Industrial Park.  Middlesex County College was opened in 1964 on a parcel of the property.  Thomas A. Edison Park was constructed next to the college on a piece of the former arsenal. GSA bought the rest of the land and used it for various purposes.  An environmental presence (a small laboratory and a mobile laboratory) has been on-site since 1966 and was known as the Hudson -Delaware Valley Federal Water Pollution Control Administration.

Federal water Pollution Control Administration mobile laboratory. (Photos c/o EPA’s Joseph Pernice)

In 1970, as part of the birth of EPA, several buildings housed many of the organizations that still exist today on the facility.  In 1986 EPA bought a total of 205 acres which included more than 40 buildings.  Over the years since 1986, many of the older buildings were either renovated or demolished and EPA now occupies 5 buildings and more than 50 trailers and modular structures.

So if you’ve ever wondered what you parents or grandparents know, now is the time to ask them and you’ll discover that they are a wealth of information.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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