by Isabel Allen
Today it’s a quiet place in the woods, overlooking Piermont just above the Hudson River. But between 1955 and 1974 it was one of 19 Nike missile sites forming a ring around New York City protecting the United States from nuclear annihilation by the Soviet Union.
The abandoned Nike missile base in Orangeburg is one of four sites in Rockland and Westchester Counties that housed surface-to-air missiles to defend New York from Soviet bombers during the Cold War. Although some of the sites still exist as grafitti-strewn ruins, most of the bases have been torn down and forgotten. The abandoned tunnels found in Blauvelt State Park just south of Nyack remind us that the woods were not always as quiet as they are today.
The Orangeburg Nike site was one of four six-magazine double Nike sites built near NYC with two standard three-magazines, according to Donald E. Bender’s New York Metro Area Nike Missile Sites. The site was operational through 1974.
The tunnels in the Nike Overlook Park have been long abandoned, now covered in grafitti. With over 100 years of military history to its credit, it has served as a Cold War missile base, a shooting range, a summer camp and a training center for soldiers.
Blauvelt is Dutch for “Blue Field,” which was the name given to the Camp Bluefields shooting range in Orangeburg in the early 1900’s. A 1911 Nyack Evening Journal included complaints from South Nyack and Grandview residents about bullets raining down on their houses. In 1912 overhead screens were installed in response to residents’ concerns but the shooting range was eventually shut down and taken over by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
The Enemy In The Sky
The New York metropolitan area was defended by a series of U.S. Army Nike surface to air missile batteries. During the middle and late 1950s, a total of 19 Nike missile batteries were constructed in New York City, on Long Island, in Westchester and Rockland Counties, and within the northern half of New Jersey.
Nike missile sites were established during the 1950s as part of a nationwide air defense program designed to to defend major population centers, industrial facilities and other important sites against long range Soviet bombers armed with nuclear bombs.
Nike missiles provided a last line of defense against air attack. In this role they were part of a complex air defense network which included radar installations, interceptor aircraft, radar picket ships and picket aircraft, civilian ground observers, antiaircraft artillery (gun) batteries and partially automated command and control systems. — Donald E Bender, alpha.fdu.edu
Starting in 1913, the Young Women’s Christian Association rented the land for a summer camp. Young women from New York City would pay $3.50 to stay at the militaristic camp for a week. In 1918, the summer camp was replaced by a ROTC training camp for young men. After World War I, a few summer homes, called “Comeback Club,” were built on Camp Bluefields’ land. The camp was used by Columbia University as a summer camp for a short amount of time, and then became a location for city children participating in the Fresh Air Fund to spend time in the “country.”
With the start of World War II, Camp Bluefields was reopened as a training facility. Soldiers from nearby Camp Shanks practiced their marksmanship on the shooting range and the facility was also as an air raid post. When the war ended the camp was abandoned. The tunnels still remain today, now covered with graffiti and vines.
In Spring Valley, the Nike Ajax missile base was transformed into a parking lot for the East Ramapo school district. Near White Plains in Westchester, the 30-missile site has disappeared and highway trucks are stored at the location. Fort Slocum on David’s Island near New Rochelle, a command center for a missile launching station on Hart Island, was officially destroyed in 2008 in order to transform the land into a park.
- [Residents] Say New Rifle Range is Menace To Life, New York Times 10/16/1911
- Westchester and Rockland: Sentinels for the City, New York Times, 7/31/2009
- “The Blauvelt Rifle Range-Camp Bluefields.” South of the Mountains. 1985 Clyne, Patricia Edwards
- Nike Battery NY-03/04, Mt. Nebo/Orangeburg, Alpha.FDU.edu
- Tweed Tunnels, YouTube.com
- Nike Missile Bases, YouTube.com