Saturday, January 6, 2018

Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Goddess of Victory! It's a Nike Missile!

From Rayannne Seacrest:

The Goddess of Victory. Has a nice ring to it, wouldn't ya say?

Inspired by the Greek deity, Phil Knight changed the name of the shoe company he co-founded with Bill Bowerman in 1964 from Blue Ribbon Sports to one that has arguably become one of the top 10 brands in the world: Nike.

The U.S. military was similarly inspired during the Cold War when it decided to call a new anti-aircraft missile system Project Nike. From 1953 until 1974, during the darkest days of the Cold War, the U.S. Army built approximately 265 Nike missile bases throughout the country. I grew up in a town, Simsbury, Connecticut, that housed one of those bases. The missile site there was paired with a radar location a few miles away in the neighboring town of Avon. For some cool photos old and new of the two sites, check out this link.

The Simsbury site was long ago bulldozed and turned into condos, and the Avon radar installation became part of Talcott Mountain Science Center. All of the U.S. sites were dismantled, although there are remnants of the projects at some locations, according to this Wikipedia list of all U.S. Nike sites.

As part of a larger effort to explore the Baker Estate, a 19th century amusement park that seems too good to be true but actually existed, I stumbled across information about paired former Nike missile sites in Needham, Mass. This is the second part in a mini-series about Needham, a suburb of Boston. The first covered a rail trail as well as a dam and former mill site just over the border in Dover (see December 30, 2017, "Rail Trail Mix"). The final installment will be quite long and take on the Baker Estate, part of which abutted the old Nike site.

The fence above is in the woods just off the driveway to the old Nike battery. The site is now owned by the town of Needham, and is home to the Needham Community Farm.

Nike sites were paired; this location is where the actual missiles were kept. There were 30 of them, along with 12 launch rails, according to this article. I assume the old silos were filled in and covered over. I was unable to find any building remnants, but you can tell by the roadway and sidewalk alignment that something used to be here.

Located two miles away from the missile site was the radar and command installation, at the top of North Hill. In 1964, as the U.S. government began to phase out Nike sites in favor of ICBMs, the Charles River ARC (now known as the Charles River Center) leased the site for 20 years at $1 per year. Eventually the non-profit, which provides services for children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, acquired the site.

(A path leading up the back of North Hill toward what is now the Charles River Center.)

To get more of an idea of what Nike missile sites around the country did during the Cold War, check out this video.

Here are links to other posts I've written over the years about Needham.

November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II," about my adventure in Cutler Park.

January 30, 2013, "Whimsical Woodlands," about the marvelous Martini Junction hidden in Needham Town Forest.

July 13, 2016, "Sad Gobble," about the loss of the iconic Owen Poultry Farm.

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