The Historical Society of Hammonton (HSH) held their speaker series presentation at the Hammonton Canoe Club on May 4. HSH President Greg White was the night’s guest speaker as the topic was on the near-forgotten town of Amatol, which is now hidden off the pines of Moss Mill Road. Amatol was the site of the plant that produced 20 percent of all of the bombs, shells, grenades and bullets used in World War I (WWI) and then years later, the Atlantic City (A.C.) Speedway was built around the time the automobile was being introduced.
Amatol, N.J. was a short-lived town that was built on 6,000 acres in the Pine Barrens. A new explosive called Amatol was developed during the final years of World War 1 after a depletion in TNT. In 1918, Amatol was built on the backs of a munitions plant and factory by the leadership of the Atlantic Loading Company. White showed a blueprint and map of the town, where there were 50 miles of railroads that serviced Amatol only with only ten locomotives and 30 passenger cars to service the town.
There was a process into making one shell of Amatol explosives, which required a 24-hour period. One 75 mL of Amatol required 97,500 pounds of TNT a day, in which White mentioned that 30,000 explosives can be put out in one day and then further explained the process into making just one shell of the explosive.
“Just to prepare one shell, you have to receive it, clean it, shellac it so it won’t corrode and it’ll hold up a little better. Pouring and cooling, that’s melting the TNT down. Drilling and cleaning the building, assembly, packing, shipping, empty box, container storage, cartridge-storing building, smokeless-filling building, ammonium nitrate crushing and drying building, ammonium nitrate storage for TNT, smokeless storage building, primer magazine, all those things have to be done to pull off the making of one shell,” White said.
White showed old photos of the town and the amount of plants that were there when Amatol was in existence around the late 1910s and early 1920s. There were only 18 places to eat in town and only a few buildings for recreational activities such as a swimming pool and billiards hall as the town consisted mostly of plants.
Following the war, the plant closed and the town eventually was deserted after the Armistice Agreement of 1918. Atlantic City was considered the vacation mecca of the Northeast at the time and board track racing was a popular sport in that time period. The Atlantic City Motor Speedway Association and Charles M. Schwab along with three other individuals spearheaded the construction of a wooden racing track in that abandoned site. That abandoned site eventually became the Amatol Raceway as construction began on February 15, 1926 and was completed on April 28, 1926. The opening day was on May 26, 1926, in which 80,000 people were in attendance, which was only meant to hold 60,000 people. Car racing was not limited as the location held air shows featuring trapeze artists, skywriting, parachute jumping, balloon, bicycle, ambulance and motorcycle racing.
“Second year-round, they expanded the card but reduced the length of the big race. [Racing driver] Frank Lockhart went out, and he was a huge name, and he set the record at 147.7 mph with the same car he did it with at Indy,” White said.
All good things came to an unfortunate end, however, as the Great Depression was looming and at the time, a lot of people weren’t financially stable and it was a depressing period for the town as Atlantic City Speedway was closed for racing after Labor Day 1928. Schwab, who helped set the foundation for Amatol Raceway, lost interest in the project and the site was sold to General Auto Group in 1929, with all of the tracks gone by 1932.
White concluded the presentation of the current site of where the Amatol plants and factories and the raceway was. Photos were taken by both Greg and Debra White on their hike to the location on Moss Mills Road, to which is now a mostly wooded area.