Photo of the Week
April 8, 2018

As promised last week, we are visiting an aerial of Camp Empire, also known as Camp at Empire.  The land that the town of Empire was built has a long history beginning in the days prior to the 1855 railroad, the Gorgona trail crossed what would become the Panama Canal's Culebra Cut and then through the hills to join the Las Cruces trail.  Empire was a place for mule pack trains to stop.  Later the French made their first excavation in Culebra Cut on January 20, 1862.  The largest of the French villages was built here, shops were opened for the mounting and repair of equipment, and he place was made  the headquarters of the Division Engineer.  The hill seen in the distance (top photo) and on the edge of the cut (lower photo) was a perfect place to observe the digging progress.  During the American construction, Division Engineer Lt. Col. D.D. Gaillard, Resident Engineer, Mr. A.S. Zinn and other canal officials had their homes.  From the platform in the Division Office, provided the best single view of Culebra Cut, showing how it winded like a elongated letter "S", following the contour of the ground in order to minimize the amount of excavation.  Here at Empire a long suspension bridge which can be seen in many old construction day photo bridged the cut joining west bank to east bank.

Like Culebra, and as the canal came close to completion, Empire was to be deserted as not needed by the Canal Enterprise anymore.  However, with the need of the military in the Canal Zone, bases were needed and the town was transferred to the U.S. Marines and then to the U.S. Army in  November 1914.

The two aerial photos shown this week were taken May 29, 1923 by aircraft from France Field.  The photo above shows many Type 14 houses which were the primarily used during the construction days. You can view three scans (.pdf) that I made from original plans that I have in my collection by (clicking here) (May take time to load - Large File).  The houses are along what looks like the main road and loop of the camp.  Many old construction day buildings were removed or dismantled like the old merchant stores and bars that were needed to support the construction population of those days.  In the distance in the photo above, you can see Camp Gaillard.  In the bottom photo, in the distance and cradled in the hills is the Camacho Reservoir that supplied water for many years durning the construction days and now at Camp Empire.  The road in both photos heading into the hills was the beginning of many defense roads that the military build on the west bank of the canal  This road from Empire hooked up with the town of Paja on the Panama side of the border and  then to La Chorrera. 

Military background of Camp Empire from

In 1916, when the whole of Europe was engaged in the great war, the United States Congress enacted a law increasing our armed forces. On of the results of this act of congress was the organization of the 33rd infantry which was formed in the Canal Zone July 6, 1916, and has remained on duty here ever since (until the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977). The enlisted personnel of the regiment was originally drawn from the 5th and 10th infantry stationed at Camps Empire and Otis. During the construction days both camps were occupied by troops after being vacated by civilians. Major General Charles H. Muir was the first regiment commander. Headquarters, machine gun, supply companies, and companies A,B,C,D,E, and F were organized at Camp Empire. Companies G,H,I,J,K,L, and M were organized at Camp Otis. The band section was organized at Fort Jay, N.Y. During the first four years of it's existence, the 33rd. infantry was distributed by battalions, and detachments, throughout the canal zone and the Republic of Panama. During the World War, it guarded Gatun Locks, the dam and spillway, the Monte Lirio and Mindi Bridges, the Chagres River Bridge at Gamboa, the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, pier 18 and the dry dock at Balboa. During the period from 1916 to 1920, the regiment was engaged in exploring and charting the jungles of Panama. 


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