As the United States advanced plans to support combat in World War I, the federal government purchased some of Cecil County’s most scenic property, the Perry Point estate. This expansive 516-acre tract at the head of the Chesapeake Bay was leased to the Atlas Powder Company early in 1918, and by March the erection of the huge explosives plant was underway.
Along with the production facilities, the company also built a village for the workers. This community contained over 200 houses for workers. Also there was a school, parks, stores, motion picture theatre, church, fire house, everything a modern 20th century town needed, according to the Architectural Review of January 1919.
The 6,500 construction men advanced the work rapidly, but the war ended quickly. So the government converted the plant into a medical facility for the treatment of veterans in 1919. The U.S. Public Health Service managed this hospital, and the Veterans Bureau took over the campus in 1922.
Beginning with the powder plant there was a fire department, which adjusted over time as the purpose of Perry Point evolved. By the late 1920s The Perry Point VAH Fire Department protected the hospital, dwellings in the village, nurses’ quarters, schoolhouse, theatre, club, stores, warehouses, and other structures.
To carry out this protective service, one fire marshal and thirteen firefighters were detailed to the station, four men working a shift, in the late 1920s. The department operated an “American La France pumper, one White Chemical Truck and one American-La France combination chemical and pumping machine, with a Ford light truck” to carry equipment, according to the Perry Point Bulletin, June 1929.
To call out this modern force, 33-pull boxes were distributed around the campus. Pulling the handle caused a large gong to ring out the number of the activated box. While the calls sounded on a bell, a permanent tape punch machine recorded the call box number, too. Test runs revealed a rapid response, as it took 59-seconds to answer the average call, the Bulletin reported.
Another aspect of the Federal protective services was the police department. In the late 1920s, the force consisted of a chief and ten patrolmen. Officers were on duty around the clock. Someone was continuously assigned to the gate, while other men made patrol rounds.