Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Discovering a former Nike Missile Base in the backyard

Sometimes, the most interesting places are located, literally, right in your backyard. I was goofing around online some time ago, like I tend to do every so often, looking for interesting places that are in the area around Milwaukee and came across an interesting bit of information.

Way back when, during the frenzy that was the Cold War, Nike Missile Bases were built to protect many of the major cities of the United States. Eight of these bases were built in the metro Milwaukee area. One of those missile sites, which was designated M-74 and was the longest site in operation from 1956 until 1971, can be found just outside of Milwaukee in Waukesha, a western suburb of Milwaukee that I live in. There's barely anything left of the control site, just like many of these Cold War places, but there is some small remnants of it still there, which has now been turned into a city park, thanks to city officials. The launch site however some miles away has been completely destroyed that once was on the very edge of town. There's been talk of making a Cold War History Museum at the control site location, but it appears that nothing yet has materialized.

Radar Tower (Roadside America)
There are 265 former Nike missile bases located around the United States, and of the sites that weren't on Army National Guard bases, they were sold off to city and state governments, school districts, and private individuals. The majority, like the control and launch bases in Waukesha, were completely obliterated and turned into parks, businesses, schools, colleges or even homes. A very small fraction have been preserved however. A few people, in fact, have made houses out of the launch bases. I've never seen one in person, but have seen a few on TV, and from the look of it, it would be kinda interesting to own a place that's deep underground.

A curious question popped into my mind as I was exploring the history of these Nike sites and simply thinking of the Cold War era. That question that I had, was if there were any underground nuclear shelters in the Milwaukee area. When I was working for the Northern Star campus newspaper at Northern Illinois University, a story idea came up about one that was on the campus and I thought it was brilliant to check out. But, a fellow reporter was way ahead of me on that trail and according to him, it wasn't anything to look at and was mainly used for old storage. Even though it wasn't anything to look at, now that I think about it, it would still be pretty cool to check out. As far as I can tell from my online research, there appears to be no known underground fallout shelters in the area, but I'll have to keep on the lookout for such a place.

As for this former missile site, all that a person will find at this place is very little of the old base itself. All there is left is a few radar tower steel structures, blast buildings, as well as a small historical marker that was dedicated in 1988 which explains part of the history of the site.

When it comes to America history and the artifacts related to that event, sometimes they get left by the wayside and fade into the past. Obviously, this was a government facility used for the defense of this country, so I guess it wouldn't have been fully preserved. But, if it had been, it would have been pretty cool all the same.

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