Discovering the NJ: In Hammonton, explore the ghostly ruins of a munitions village


The history of the scarred lands of the area known as Pine Barrens has been short lived, but they all have intriguing stories to tell. In the town of Hammonton, satellite images show a large oval in a wooded area and just a few miles away is a complex array of what appear to have been roads.

If you look closely, a series of intersecting lines etched into the Earth resemble an ancient ammunition village in the town of Pine Barrens in Hammonton. Photo courtesy of Google Earth

As World War I drew to a close, a new explosive was invented to help stretch the dwindling supply of TNT. It contained ammonium nitrate, a common material. They named the explosive “amatol”. Mixed with TNT, amatol did not decrease its destructive power – helping to expand the supply of TNT. Amatol was used extensively during both world wars in shells and bombs.

The US military had built factories and munitions factories in this area of ​​the Pine Barrens in the summer of 1918. A few miles away, they had also built an ammunition village for workers at the complex. They named the city after the explosive they produced: Amatol. Most of the buildings had been constructed of timber, which was then dismantled. Buildings made of concrete still exist today. They are believed to have been Amatol’s pouring rooms as the sides of the buildings are tilted so that if there was an explosion the surrounding area would be less affected. There are two sets of these buildings; a group of buildings is on private land.

A view of what are probably the remains of Amatol’s casting rooms. Photo by Kathleen Butler

The village was built a few kilometers away so that in the event of an explosion, the village would not feel any impact. It consisted of houses, churches, shops and schools. It was a thriving community that looked promising and everlasting, even after the war was over.

After the war ended in November of the same year, the factory buildings were demolished and the villagers moved elsewhere as there was no more work. Amatol became a ghost town, which was typical for many areas at that time. Towns and villages were often built near businesses and industries, and if these failed people had to leave, often for good.

A postcard shows what the city of Amatol looked like in its heyday. Photo courtesy of Etsy

It was not until the mid-1920s that this district came back to life. the Atlantic City Motor Circuit, also known as the Amtol Raceway, was built in 1926 and has become the largest wooden racetrack on the east coast. It was a 1.5 mile oval and only 50 feet wide. It cost millions of dollars to build. Unfortunately, it was the Great Depression that led to the demise of this favorite pastime; it was finally deconstructed in 1933 after hosting eight races.

As for the town, there are some remains of chimneys and foundations. Crater-like depressions in the earth are where the caves once stood. The crumbled wire mesh on the floor had once been plastered walls in buildings. State Street and Grant Street had led to Lincoln Square, which was the center of the village. Today these streets are dirt roads and there is no vestige of Lincoln Square.

A long trench serves as an intriguing feature left for visitors to view in the ruins of Amatol. Photo by Kathleen Butler

The racetrack’s oval footprint remains today: 75% of it is a wildlife management area while the remaining 25% is private land. If you had to walk along the oval footprint it would be like walking a normal dirt road in the Pine Barrens. Although there is no numbered address, you will find the railway opposite the intersection of Moss Mill Road and Burdick Avenue in Hammonton. The ruins of Amatol can be found behind the baseball fields at Mullica Township Recreation Park: 623 Elmwood Road, Elwood, NJ 08217.

Kathleen Butler writes about little-known local history so others can venture out and explore these gems. She also has a YouTube channel, Rustic adventures, as well as two published books: Abandoned ruins on New Jersey public lands and Abandoned ruins of eastern Pennsylvania.

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