The History of Camp Dawson

Camp Dawson
Former West Virginia Gov. William Mercer Owens Dawson.
Courtesy West Virginia and Regional History Collection, 
West Virginia University Libraries
Historic Photo Camp Dawson
Courtesy West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries

The West Virginia State Legislature commissioned the creation of Camp Dawson on May 7, 1909. The military base is located on the outskirt of Kingwood, W.Va., along the Cheat River, about 25 miles from West Virginia University.

The original purchase of land for Camp Dawson consisted of 196 ½ acres, and that has grown to over 4,000 acres.

The camp was named after former West Virginia Gov. William Mercer Owens Dawson, the owner and editor of the Preston County Journal from 1873 to 1891. Dawson entered politics in 1881 as a state senator. In 1895, he served as clerk of the West Virginia House of Delegates, and two years later became secretary of state under Gov. George W. Atkinson. Dawson was elected as governor in 1904 and served until 1909.

In the summer of 1909, troops began training at Camp Dawson and that training continued until the start of World War I. The military base became a West Virginia state militia training in 1928 and, during World War II, a prisoner of war camp.

Today, Camp Dawson is a mountain-area training where pilots learn to navigate through the slopes and land in difficult terrain, according to the Global Security Web site.
The property also provides an airport training range of two 5,000-foot runways, one paved and one dirt, a control tower and a terminal building. Those who train at Camp Dawson represent the Army National Guard of West Virginia and other states, Army reserve, Reserve Officers Training Corps, and other active and reserve components of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The Robert C. Byrd Regional Training Institute, a new disaster center at Camp Dawson, opened in March 2002. The $22 million building contains 183 hotel-style rooms and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

The West Virginia State National Guard is in the process of establishing a national training center for dealing with weapons of mass destruction at Camp Dawson. Emergency workers from around the country will train for terrorism emergencies within a replica of a three-block urban landscape.

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