Posts Tagged ‘nike base’

take a tour of a cold war relic in the Florida Everglades

Tours of old Nike bases now being offered

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK – At the height of the Cold War, anti-aircraft missiles stood at the ready here in Florida’s swamplands, protecting the South from a potential Soviet nuclear bomber attack launched from Cuba. For almost two decades, beginning shortly after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the HM-69 Nike Hercules Missile Site was manned by about 100 military personnel, one of the last lines of defense if the unthinkable happened. When it closed in 1979, the park took control of the site.

Now the site is undergoing a rebirth of sorts as a public exhibit, drawing the curious who want to see the Cold War relic along with those who stumble upon it while visiting Everglades National Park. With a $10 Everglades admission fee and a phone call to park officials, tourists can join the hour-long driving tour of the Nike site, which was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Although the missiles were dismantled and removed, visitors can see the site’s administration building, the tiny missile assembly shed, the missile barns and protective berms. Tours continue through March, during the park’s peak season.Sites like this sprung up during the Cold War to defend U.S. cities from attack and send the Soviets a message of strength. The missiles in South Florida were certainly not hidden — at 41 feet (12.5 meters) tall, anyone could see them. While some Nike missiles were nuclear-tipped, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis said the weapons at the Everglades site probably weren’t.

“You could just drive down the road and see them setting out there,” said Bobby Jones, who was transferred to the site in 1965, when it was still a temporary operation. “The missiles were setting on trailers. … everything was mobile. We could move within an hour. The radar and everything.” Jones repaired diesel generators used to power the site, including its radar system and missile launchers. He remembers the wild birds and alligators that he shared the land with, and the porous ground that the site was built upon. “I had never seen anything like South Florida before in my life,” said Jones, who was from Missouri. “It was all really new to me. And I was fascinated with the wildlife there.”

Park officials said interest has been high in the landmark, which takes on a greater relevance this year, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. They have already added an extra day to the tour schedule. “I think certainly in this community, what people focus on is how things were doing the Cuban Missile Crisis. And a lot of our demographics are interested in the history of our dealings with Cuba,” said Melissa Memory, chief of cultural resources at the park. “But I think in the broader preservation community, Cold War historic assets, our appreciation for them is evolving.”

Because the site was placed inside a national park, it has survived urban expansion and is now well-preserved, said volunteer tour guide Gregg Halpin. Other Nike sites scattered around the United States, strategically placed near cities, have disappeared. As the threat of a Soviet attack faded, many of the sites (after the missiles were removed) were integrated into urban communities as parks or business centers. In Arlington Heights, Illinois, a former Nike base is now an 18-hole golf course. A New Jersey town proposed converting its former base into a commuter parking lot in December. And part of an old site in Gardner, Kansas, has been converted into Nike Elementary School. The school’s nickname: the Missiles.

The Nike site tucked away in the Everglades was not the only one in Florida. The former launch area of the Nike Hercules Site HM in Opa-Locka, just north of Miami, is now a National Guard reservation. Another site in Miami has become an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility. The Everglades site is now searching for information, historic replicas and artifacts used at the facility during the Cold War to include in the tour. Park officials are also working to spruce up areas that have not yet been open to the public because of health and safety concerns, and are conducting interviews with former military personnel who were stationed here.

“We can go on the Internet and other research is available to us, so we know who built (it) and when it was built,” Halpin said. “But we need those personal stories to make it a connection with the people, so the people will want to come here and see what it was all about.”

Fort Hancock

Fort Hancock is home to the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Naval defenses were established here during the War of 1812 and construction continued thru into the civil war. An ordinance testing ground (i.e. they tested weapons) was established here in the 1850’s. In the 1890’s the first gun batteries were built, and during the early 20th century the focus was on coastal defense against warships.

With the nuclear age and long range bombers the new concern was that Soviet aircraft would try to bomb the US so a Nike program was established at Fort Hancock. These missiles were the last line of defense against such attacks. In 1974 Fort Hancock was deactivated and was transferred to the National Park Service as part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

The Park now gives tours of the Batteries, and will soon begin offering tours of the radar site.

While researching Fort Hancock I found out that they give tours of the gun batteries, and soon will do radar site tours as well. To find out about these tours, call them at 732 872-5900 and they’ll add you to their mailing list. These tours will be done throughout the summer. Note that the tours are brief 45 minute walk thrus, where the programs are fully detailed including slide shows. The tour begins with a slide show and history lesson which discusses the history of Fort Hancock as it relates to American defense against the British, and how it then became a Nike base in the 60’s before becoming obsolete when missile technology improved. Much of the following information comes from the official Fort Hancock website, and from what I learned at the slide show.
The First Lighthouse:

Any ship entering the New York must first pass Sandy Hook before heading up through the “Narrows”. In 1764 a lighthouse was erected to guide ships past the hook and it’s dangerous waters. This lighthouse still operates today and is Americas oldest operating lighthouse. The British took control of the lighthouse during the Revolutionary War until the war’s end.

The first defense at the Jersey Shore:

The War of 1812 saw the first American built fortifications constructed at Sandy Hook, however no trace of them remains today. In the 1850’s work began on a massive granite block “Third System” fort at Sandy Hook. Construction progressed through the Civil War, and the fort was nearly complete when construction was halted. Only a small portion of this beautiful granite fort remains. In 1874 the US Army opened the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, where new types of ordnance was developed and tested. Breech loading steel cannon were developed, with far longer range and much more destructive capability. Masonry forts could not house these massive guns, and their walls could not stand up to their power. As the 1880’s dawned it became apparent that The United States’ seacoast defenses were woefully inadequate and had to be upgraded. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed a board consisting of members of the army, navy and also civilians. The board was headed by then Secretary of War, William C Endicott. The Endicott Board recommended a massive upgrading of America’s seacoast defenses and also listed which ports were a priority. New York City was at the top of the list.

Fort Hancock Is Built:

In 1890 work began on the first gun batteries at Sandy Hook. In October of 1895 the fort at Sandy Hook was named “Fort Hancock” in honor of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who died in 1886. General Hancock was one of the Union Army’s most able commanders and is credited with deploying The Army of The Potomac so effectively at the Battle of Gettysburg. As the 1890’s became the 1900’s Fort Hancock grew in both size and strength. Most of the posts cantonment buildings were constructed, as well as many off its numerous gun batteries during this period.

The interwar years saw Fort Hancock revert to a quiet peacetime routine. However, as war clouds gathered over Europe and Manchuria in the late 1930’s, the United States began a massive upgrade of its military along with the first ever peacetime draft. Fort Hancock saw a huge increase in manpower and buildings were built to house, feed and service them. After Pearl Harbor work reached a fever pitch as some gun batteries were modernized and casemated while older, obsolete batteries were disarmed and their guns cut up for scrap.

Fort Hancock the Nike Base:

After World War Two ended the new threat to the US was to come from the air and not the sea and so the Army’s coast defense guns were scraped and the Coast Artillery Corps was abolished. Fort Hancock was declared surplus but then fate intervened, North Korea invaded South Korea and America entered the Korean War and the Cold War between the West and the Warsaw Pact began. Fort Hancock became home to the Nike series of anti-aircraft missiles to defend against Soviet bombers. In 1974 Fort Hancock was deactivated and was transferred to the National Park Service as part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

See all my pictures here



Part of the radar site

The Tour:

After the slide show we went into several gun batteries where we saw how they operated and what they did. One of the first batteries we visited was Battery Potter. We were able to go all the way inside and thruout the tunnels, from the shell storage areas to the lift areas, we saw everything. This was the site of the first ever (and only) steam-powered battery lift ever in the entire world.

Next was battery Granger, whose tour was limited because it has not been fully restored yet to the point where it was safe to go, so we just went on top.

Then it was on to the mortar battery, which is a more modern, and very different type of battery. There was no LOS to the target with these guns. There were 4 guns in a battery which aimed up in the air quite high. A spotter would determine the distance to the target, and give range and distance directions to the gunners who would lob the shells in high arcs to the target. If they misses the spotter recalculated and another shot would be fired. The shells could go very high and very far, and all of this was done without worry about suffering return fire since they were below dune level. Unless the enemy had similar guns and could lob shots back, they were virtually unhittable, not to mention invisible as well.


In case of a ground attack, the mortar batteries could only be entered thru long corridors which had machine guns at opposing angles. You could not get down one of these corridors without being caught in the crossfire.


We finally saw a gun up close at Battery Gunnison. It was near dark and so the pictures are kinda lousy but you can see how big and massive these guns were. Very impressive stuff.


widebackopenLearn much more about Fort hancock here

The Bunny Bridge of Watchung

The bunny bridge was built so that animals could cross rt 78 and get in and out of Watchung Reservation. The entire concrete bridge is covered with grass, trees and thorn bushes and if you hang around long enough you probably will see deer crossing it. What’s strange is Nike Rd’s access is only a half mile south of there, so why this wasn’t used is beyond me. Perhaps the bunny bridge was built before the Nike base closed?

Wayne Nike Base


detailed info on the Wayne Nike base

One part of the Nike base has been converted into ugly ugly townhouses. The other part is near a traffic circle and from I hear, there’s really nothing there to see. Anyone with info, please respond.

Mahwah Nike Base

Read more about this Nike Base here

This site is long gone and from what I have been told there’s nothing left to see. If anyone knows anything more, please say so.

Swedesboro Nike Base

You can read more about the Swedesboro Nike base here

I have never visited this location. If anyone can tell me anything about it, I’d appreciate it.

Summit Nike Base

You can read more about the Summit Nike base here

Entrance to Nike Road


Nike Rd was the entrance to the Nike Control Base in Summit just outside the Watchung Reservation. The military buildings are long gone, and only the name of the road remains to remind people of what once was a part of our national defense system. The road is blocked off to vehicular access but foot traffic is permitted. The control base was built in 1958, despite
concerns about being located so close to the woods of the Reservation. Interstingly the base was shut down only 4 years later. The launch control site is located where the Watchung Stables are located now.



Battery Lewis

The Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook have been of great strategic importance to coastal defense for centuries. Naval defenses consisted of various forts, gun embankments, and even Nike missiles in the Cold War. Eventually these various defenses became obsolete and the military elements were removed, but the physical concrete bunkers remain. In Hartshorne Woods County Park in Navesink are the concrete remains of Battery Lewis and Battery 219.

Here’s a guide to the hikes from the NY/NJ Trail conference.To learn more about these fascinating pieces of military history, there’s a really good reference here.





All the rest of the pictures here