Rockets Go ‘Swoosh’
Nike Site Recreation Area, Manchester
If I were to think about which of the 70 or so Manchester “things” I’m visiting and writing about for CTMQ, I’d guess that there are only three with more blog pages dedicated to them than this place.
Surprising? Sure. For the record, my guesses would be Shady Glen (food blogs), Case Mountain (various travel/hiking blogs), and maybe the Lutz Children’s Museum (Mommy blogs).
And yet, when I compiled my long list of hikes in Manchester, I originally missed this place. Even more surprising, I know.
There are a slew of cold war missile sites around Connecticut (12 by most counts), but this one in Manchester seems to be fairly unique. There are more original structures here than at other locations I’ve seen.
At this point, you can quit my page and take your pick of some others:
The best, by far, is Coldwar-CT.com; factual, researched, tons of pictures, and really… it’s where all of us others get all of our information anyway.
Then there’s Abandoned Wonders which isn’t bad at all; some guys did basically what I’ve done and wrote about it without crediting Coldwar-CT.
And, if you’re woo, there’s always the CT Paranormal Searchers who get scared of raccoons in the night.
Then there’s me. The clown who is supposedly chronicling everything in Manchester (and beyond) but didn’t know about this place until passing a sign for it out on Keeney Street.
I sought to correct this oversight by immediately driving up Garden Grove Road to the top of the hill. It’s a weird place when placed in context.
A tight gathering of ugly, squat, cider block buildings at the top of a hill; essentially exactly what you’d expect a mid-20th century hastily built military installation in the middle of suburbia to look like.
The town of Manchester was given the property from the Army in the early 1960’s and they decided to move in rather than destroy or ignore. Today, the buildings contain some town maintenance stuff, a ballet studio, and the Nike Tykes Early Learning and Childhood Center.
That’s right, they named a daycare after the anti-ballistic missiles that were once at-the-ready mere yards away. I find that equal parts cool and disturbing.
Although this place is called the Nike Site Recreation Area, there really isn’t too much to hike. I parked at the side of the road by the welcoming sign and walked up a trail to the top of the hill through a rather nice grove of birch trees.
Remnants of the missile site dot the hilltop: launch pads, ruined little buildings, unused powerline poles… The site was operational from 1956 thru 1961. According to Coldwar-CT, the types of missiles here were: Nike 1B, 2C/30A/12L-A (Ajax only).
Speaking of Coldwar-CT, let’s get some more background from there.
One contributor toured the Manchester IFC/radar site in 1973, shortly after the military vacated the property:
Up on the hill where the radar dishes had been I found a small concrete building, approximately 20′ x 30′. It had no door and had been vandalized. I recall that it had extremely thick walls and inside the front door was a maze of right angle turns I assume to keep radiation out, similar to what I have seen in various fallout shelters. Inside the building was a single room and I could clearly see where a large electronic console used to sit . . . the housing was still there and there were dozens of wires coming out of the floor leading into the housing. Exiting the structure I noticed a large wooden panel by the outer door with pegs for various odd shaped hand tools, probably specialized wrenches and the like. I could tell because the tools, long gone, had been outlined in paint on the board. I’m not sure what the function of the building was and unfortunately there is no sign of it on the property today.”
Okay, that wasn’t all that exciting, but again, that site has a billion pictures of this entire area all the way down to Main Street and over to Line Street where the launch site was.
While the Cold War was no fun, and the buildings here are as ugly as communist bloc architecture (ironic, eh?), the hill provides a rather interesting walk back through the decades… right in the middle of Manchester.
And lastly, if you’re so inclined, today you can hike around the Nike Site and then find your way easily enough to the Manchester Water Department’s Globe Hollow trails. This is a rather large spider web of trails that encompass a wide area from the Nike Site down to Hercules Road, over to Main Street, and then all around the Manchester Country Club golf course and the Lutz Museum, up to the Globe Hollow Pool and down to Line Street.
A bunch of the trails in red above are old Army roads and unfinished streets and stuff (like a connector between Hercules and Lakewood Circle and more over off of Line Street.)
Go for it.
CTMQ’s Manchester Town Land Trails Main Page
Padraic saysJuly 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm
Cool. Reminds me of this:
which is located underneath Bare Mountain in the Holyoke Range in Hadley, MA. There’s less of the actual complex easily visible from the trail, or at least the main trail, though if you know where to look, you can see down to the access road and parking lot. Apparently the nearby college uses the space to store documents, because people still store things on paper. It’s private property, and the inside is no doubt inaccessible, but I think it’s easy to get at least to the grounds. I never have, because the trails and peaks there are much more enticing.
There are power conduits and a random fenced off concrete building at the summit, but the thing that impresses me the most is how well hidden a facility of that scale is…I’d hiked there several times without knowing it even existed.
Outside of CT, I know, but close, and the similarity struck me.
Also, because as a long time reader, I know how much you love inconsequential minutiae! Although later generations of the Nike missile were early attempts at anti-ballistic technology, I think the versions you transcribed were all anti-aircraft, designed to interdict fast, high altitude bombers.
Shelly saysSeptember 28, 2018 at 10:02 am
Great pictures! I’m the director of the preschool center, and while it WOULD be weird and cool if there had been missiles armed and at the ready yards from our program….we were mainly the fire department and administrative HQ here (as far as we can tell from our research, anyway) I grew up in Vernon, and EVERYONE knows the legends about hidden silos. If I ever find any evidence of them, I’ll report back :)
(I love to share the history of our building- we had an architect doing some work who wondered why we have a reinforced, windowless room right in the middle of our center!)
Dorathy Biddinger saysNovember 8, 2019 at 7:44 am
My dad was in the army and had something to do with the Nike missle base, We lived in military housing on what was called Nike Circle, I think it is now called faith circle wonder when and why the street name was changed? I attended Bennett middle school
Dave k saysJuly 8, 2020 at 6:32 pm
I worked on The Nike missile sites back in 1955 I had just graduated and was waiting to go in the Marine Corps we surveyed the control site and also the launch site. Seemed like a regular thing to do back then. Dave K
Dale Van de Vrede saysAugust 8, 2020 at 3:24 am
Apologies for the late response – I just discovered this site this evening (8.7.2020) while taking a trip down memory lane, as my last duty station was the USMC recruiter in Manchester (1978-1979), and I lived at 18 Nike Circle – military housing at the time, and probably just prior to the Circle becoming private real estate.
My favorite hike was walking the missile site, – – small world.
Bob Melusky saysFebruary 12, 2022 at 4:12 am
I went to the Line Street missile launch location on a third grade class trip just before it was closed. We got up close to the Ajax missiles and the red fuming nitric acid propellant.
There is a blued-blazed trail down the hill that goes through of of the nicest patches of forest in town. On Manchester water company property, it begins near the intersection marked by a large social-stone cairn. The trail cut through the pine forest by Frank Belknap, Manchester Conservation Commission volunteer, makes a 5th corner at the intersection. With people like Frank in town, we can have nice things. I’m looking to assemble an east-west trail across town and if it is ever sanctioned, the Belknap Trail will be a highlight.
There was a hard-wired connection between this command and control and radar facility and the launch site so I image one of these roads was a cableway.
A guy named Mike Doherty was stationed here and left the most detailed description of life on the hill I have read as a comment on a local town blog: https://manchester-ct.blog/2020/04/11/nike-site-recreation-area-trails/
I’m trying to wave my arms at the CT-Cold War site guy, but his contact email bounced.