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Nike Site Recreation Area & Trails

The Nike Site, off of Keeney St at the end of Garden Grove Rd., is a fascinating place to explore. From 1957-1961 the land was a U. S. Army anti-aircraft defense site. There were twelve of these Nike Sites in CT.  The installation in Manchester protected this area (Hartford? Pratt & Whitney?) from military planes that entered our airspace. The army used radar and missiles to detect incoming enemy planes and was considered a last line of defense to protect the U.S. during the Cold War. The military decommissioned the site in 1961 as advances in technology made the missiles obsolete. I don’t think the deployment of any missiles ever happened from the Manchester Nike Site (or any of the sites for that matter).

When the army returned the land at the Nike Site installation to the town of Manchester,  the recreation department found another purpose for the area. Today there is a pre-school, indoor shooting range, baseball field, the CT Concert Ballet, pickleball courts, hiking trails, and some buildings that look empty but (peeking in the windows) are obviously used for storage.

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Baseball Field
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Pickleball Courts

The trails are not well marked at Nike.  The Recreation Department has this little booklet of town trails with maps, but the Nike Site did not make the final cut.  Here is the link to the town’s little hiking booklet:

http://recreation1.townofmanchester.org/NewRecreation/assets/File/Trail%20Guide_Update_S19.pdf

On the CTMQ website, I found this map of the trails (which I have altered slightly) . The CTMQ blog is one of my favorites, and when the CQ is over and you are looking for something to do in CT, you need to go to the website and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Here is the link: http://www.ctmq.org

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Hiking on the Nike Site trails and abandoned roads is an opportunity to look back at the land-use history of this area since 1957. There is an abandoned, (serious) double yellow line road that connected what is now Hercules Dr. to Faith Circle. Army officers and their families lived on Faith Circle.

A radar tripod was at one time attached to the three metal plates of this cement pad.

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Old Radar Pad

There is a cairn where you take another trail out to Manchester Country Club.

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Other features at Nike include a well-built lean-to, cement pads, assorted buildings, metal objects, telephone poles, and water towers.

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I found an abandoned ski slope and an abandoned baseball field, to be the most intriguing elements. Internet research reveals that the ski area was called Northview Ski Slope. It was open from 1969-1979. Vandalism, including cutting the ropes on the rope tow and driving a four-wheel vehicle into the rope tow building caused the town to shut it down.

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Pulley from the Old Rope Tow

Most of the poles from the rope tow are still standing with the pulleys attached.  Only this one has fallen over.

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Broken Rope Tow Pole

Trees and brush now cover most of the ski slope, making it hard to visualize people skiing on that hill.  But, there are a couple of clearings on the old trails where you can still picture people coming down on their skis.

One of the trails looks like it had a good view of Hartford.

Last but far from least, is the abandoned baseball field. The field is down in a valley closer to Hackmatack St.

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I couldn’t find any mention of the field on any sites related to the U.S. Army use of the Nike Site or the Manchester Recreation Department. I think the soldiers working at the installation used the field.  The only evidence of access to the grounds is a path from Faith Circle.  It doesn’t look like there was ever a road or parking area down there.

Was the field used only for pick-up games between those stationed in Manchester? Maybe teams from some of the other Nike Sites in the region came up to play.

Here are some pictures of the old backstop and old cedar posts that held the player’s benches.

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View of Weed-covered Backstop from Homeplate
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Behind the Backstop Looking Out at the Field Toward First Base
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Away Team’s Bench?

 

More photos of the area include home plate and the pitcher’s rubber.

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This trail off of Faith Circle takes you down to the field.

Every time I walk around the Nike Site, I discover something new.  I haven’t hiked the trail out to the golf course yet.   I am grateful for the creative people who have used this land and the buildings for recreation rather than just abandoning it like some of the other Nike Sites.

17 thoughts on “Nike Site Recreation Area & Trails

  1. When I was in MHS I knew of the Nike site, probably thru the Manchester Herald or Manchester’s radio station WINF. After it was decomissioned, I had heard it was open for skiing, but since I didn’t ski, I never checked it out. About three years ago, an acquaintance took me for a ride thru these areas of Manchester that you wrote about in your blog, so finally I got acquainted with an area of Manchester I knew little about. I grew up in Manchester, but left in 1960 to live and work in Hartford. While my parents were alive, I visited them quite often through the years. Until the COVID-19 Stay-at-home order, I used to be in Manchester one evening a month for the Manchester Rock & Gem Club which has been held for several years at the Lutz Children’s Museum on S. Main St. We are a very small friendly club who have interests in rocks, minerals, lapidary (the cutting & polishing of stones), meteorites. Since we are small we don’t have a website or publish anything in the J.I. Hopefully we will be able to get back to our meeting place sometime soon. If you are curious, you can contact me via my email.

    1. I didn’t know about the Rock & Gem Club. Sounds interesting. Thanks for letting me know. The Lutz is another creative place in town to visit.

      1. The Manchester Rock & Gem Club got re-organized during COVID-19 with a new name: Manchester Gem & Mineral Club, and it continued to meet, changing our meeting day & time to Sundays afternoons during the Summer and Fall of 2021 in the parking area of the Lutz Children’s Museum. We now have a new meeting day and time: the third Wednesday of each month, 6:00 PM — 8:00PM. We had to change, day and time due to unforeseen complications at the museum. If you or any other person are curious about our organization or have curiosity about the earth we walk on, please join us as we would like to meet you. All ages are welcome. Last summer twin brothers of about 5th-6th grade level and their mom became members. At each meeting there are door prizes, and a silent auction with rock, mineral, and related items. If you need other information, you can email me.

  2. We live in the Lakewood neighborhood and are just beginning to explore the Nike Site with our young kids. As skiers from Vermont I am so sad the rope tow isn’t there anymore! Thanks this was a really interesting read.

    1. Thanks for reading. I’m sorry the rope tow is gone, too. It must have been a great place for kids to get comfortable on skis.

      1. Hi Christine, blog was very interesting to me as I grew up in the ‘ 60’s on Hackmatack St and know that area like the back of my hand. Skated many times on the pond right next to that ball field. The ball field and surrounding area is on land owned by the Michalik family , who live on Hackmatack St less than a quarter of a mile from where I grew up near where Prospect St. joins Hackmatack. If you are on the ball field, look at the southwest corner of the field. There is a dirt road that leads up to their house on Hackmatack St.

      2. It’s interesting to hear from people who visited these spots 50 years ago. Did you ever play on the ballfield? The pond is overgrown like the field. Since it is so close to the field it must have been a beautiful and cooling backdrop during a game. I wonder how many foul balls ended up at the bottom. The dirt road is still there.

  3. Super exploration and photos. Here’s info about Northview Ski Slope. http://www.nelsap.org/ct/northview.html –Susan Barlow; please get in touch (I know we’ve been in touch before, but I’ve misplaced your e-address!)

  4. Wonderful pictures! The Nike Site was the command and control center for the missile installation. I believe the Nike missiles were located in Glastonbury, south of Line Street, behind what is now the Manchester Police Department firing range. Faith Circle was originally Nike Circle. The houses there are very similar to the Navy housing (Capehart housing, I believe it was called) where Joan and I lived with our boys in Groton, Ct. and Charleston, S.C. during the 60’s. Next time I walk up that way, I’ll look for the old baseball field.

    1. Interesting Geoff. I had read that the missiles were off Line St in Glastonbury. The military did quite a bit of construction over many acres for just 4 years of use. There was a command center with buildings and radar and a control center storing missiles in underground bunkers with elevators, the fencing to enclose it all, guard shacks, housing, and the baseball field. Obviously well built too because most of it is still there 60 years later.

  5. C Battery, 2nd Missile Battalion, 55th Artillery, Manchester, CT
    Nov. 1958 – Aug. 1961

    C Battery was my home for almost three years! I have many memories of it. not all fond ones. I’d be happy to reply to questions or comments.

    Mike

    The following is based on personal recollections, not informed by historical documents, except for the description of the Capehart housing.

    During the cold war, Nike missile sites formed a protective ring around Pratt & Whitney, in East Hartford, CT, then the largest manufacturer of jet engines in the United States. One of those Nike sites, C Battery, 2nd Missile Battalion, 55th Artillery, was located partly in Manchester, partly in Glastonbury, two towns roughly in the center of Connecticut. The sites that formed that protective ring were designated as “combat ready,” as they were supposed to be prepared to fire missiles on very short notice.
    The “site” actually comprised three different locations, a fire control (FC) area, a launching area, and a separate “Capehart” housing area. The FC area and launching area were less than 2 miles apart, and were connected via underground cable. This brief recollection describes only the FC area.

    Physical Description of the FC area
    The real action in the FC area was on top of the hill on which three radars were located, two tracking radars and a Scanning radar. The Scanning radar provided a representation of any aircraft in the vicinity, with the aircraft showing up as a brighter spot in the circular array of the scope in the van. Each revolution of the scanning radar was shown as a radius sweeping the sky. Also on the hill was a small block building, to which were attached two radar vans, one of which had the electronics for the Target Tracking Radar, or TTR, and the other for Missile Tracking Radar, or MTR. In the other van were the electronics for the scope showing the activity in the sky as revealed by the scanning radar, and also the command apparatus for actually firing the missile. Another small, block building, close to the vans, housed the generator that was needed to produce electricity in the event of a power failure. A well-traveled path is still evident on the satellite photo on page 1, downloaded from GOOGLE Maps. That path wound its way upwards and leftwards from between the orderly room and the mess hall to the radars. The radars were perhaps 200 yards up from the administrative area.

    Access to the FC area was by a road that ran south, up the road past the Battalion HQ. Access was via a gate across the road. That gate was operated manually by a guard from a very small guard shack, just inside the fence that surrounded the FC area.

    On the hill
    The van for the MTR and TTR electronics was rather small, and tightly packed with electronic equipment. My estimate is that it was perhaps 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. As one entered from the concrete block building between the two vans, the A-scope for MTR was on the left, with a seat for the lone MTR operator. An A-scope has a diameter of about 8 inches, and it provides information to the operator. Then came two cabinets filled with electronic gear. These cabinets were opened for a very brief time for checking the status of the system during preparation for firing a missile. Across the far end of the van was a wide console with three A-scopes, one for each of the three TTR operators. One man operated the elevation, one the azimuth and the third the range. Their task was to locate and lock on a target by manipulating hand wheels that were about 5 inches in diameter that in turn drove servomechanisms. Specifically the perceptual motor task of each operator involved getting and keeping a small “spike” inside a “gate,” on the A-scope . The gate was essentially a break betweeen two rows of signals representing noise.. When the spike was in the gates of all three operators, the target radar was locked on the target. On the right hand side of the van were some rather shallow cabinets.
    I was rarely inside the other van, and cannot describe even remotely completely what was in that van. The C-scope, perhaps 12 inches in diameter for the scanning radar was next to a console on which there was the switch that the officer in charge would have to throw to launch a missile, in case of an actual attack.
    The block building between the radar vans was about as big as one of the radar vans. It was essentially a storage and work area, with a large worktable at the front and tall metal storage cabinets at the back. When the battery was “hot,” that is in a status such that we were supposed to be able to launch a missile with a 15 minute notice, the central block is where the operators slept on cots, on the table or even on top of the tall cabinets. The battery was hot for a week at a time about once a month.

    Maintaining readiness
    There were two “sections” of operators manning the radars in the FC area. I believe that each section had 5 or 6 men. At any given time when the battery was on standby, i. e., not hot, some members of one section would be responsible for routine maintenance of the radars on the hill. The members of the other section and the remaining members of the crew assigned to the hill would be pulling guard duty, KP, and whatever had to be done onsite down the hill. The crew on the hill would be responsible for performing routine checks on the electronics in the vans, and whenever some check showed a subsystem to be malfunctioning, a maintenance man would be called, and it was his responsibility to make the required adjustments or, if necessary, remove and replace the malfunctioning unit. Replacement was done not at the level of vacuum tubes or transistors, etc, but at a level of components above that, functional modules that could be removed and replaced as a whole. The defective unit was sent off to be repaired at a higher level than the battery.
    The operator personnel on the hill would perform those checks on a routine basis, every 4 hours if I recall correctly. We would also go out on a regular basis, climb up on the low platforms on which the tracking radars were mounted, and collimate the MTR and TTR. Collimation, an operation that assured that the azimuth was correct., was a daunting task, especially on a hilltop at 2 A.M. on a wintry New England January night!

    Assessing readiness
    The basic assessment of the battery’s readiness to fire was the routine checking and maintenance of the equipment, performed under the close supervision
    of Chief Warrant Officer Rasmus. He had a dedication to keeping the battery ready, which I’m sure was shared by his counterpart in the launching area. Equal attention was paid to the readiness of the crew, with on-the-job training of incoming operators by the senior operators there. We took great pride in being good at the job, and being in a state of readiness, even if we were unhappy about the nature of the duty to which we had been assigned.
    An organizationally higher level of the assessment of readiness came the “Ops checks,” the formal evaluations that were conducted randomly and completely unannounced. These were most often conducted by teams formed at the battalion level, but could be from a higher level, as well. They were conducted about once a month, when the battery was hot, and at any time of the day or night. We were required to sham fire a missile at an electronically fired “target” within 15 minutes as the ops check team observed and evaluated every action, and then gave the battery an overall score.
    At the highest level of the assessment of readiness was the annual trip to a missile range in New Mexico, where the battery actually fired a missile at a drone flown into the vicinity of where we had set up our equipment. The importance of shooting down the drone was drilled into us, with the constant reminder that the year after a failure to down it would be a very hard one! We were flown down and stayed one night in Fort Bliss, then trucked out to the missile range. When the time came to get ready to locate and fire a missile at the drone, the tension was high. I can recall the expectancy as the spike representing the target approached the gate on my elevation A-scope, and the relief and exultation when the spike turned from a sharply defined one to a mess of clutter and the radar’s elevation dropped as the debris itself, to which the radar remained temporarily locked on, fell to earth. We went home a proud and happy crew!

    Living quarters
    The officers and, I believe, senior NCOs lived in the Capehart housing. In Manchester, there were 32 Capehart housing units. There was a sort of environmental impact statement in 1989 that described the Capehart housing in Manchester in some detail, and that indicated that the units were being decommissioned and turned over to civilian housing..
    Married enlisted men could live “on the economy,” and unmarried enlisted men in the lower ranks lived in the barracks shown on the plan of the site, above. The barracks were divided into sleeping areas, with 2 bunks per area. Those areas were separated by portable dividers, otherwise the main room in the barracks was a very large open room. The NCOs’ quarters were individual rooms.
    President Truman had integrated the armed services just 10 years before, so the site was obviously racially integrated. An African-American, Sgt. Davidson, was the senior NCO in the FC area when we arrived on the site in 1958, and the operators who were there before we arrived had great respect for him. There were many minority enlisted men, and the company commander when the site was decommissioned in 1961 was Capt. Everett, an African American. To the best of my recollection, there were no racial incidents on the site in the years in question.
    With regard to another form of integration, it is my memory that there were very few if any problems between the soldiers and the people in the town of Manchester.
    I do not know the number of personnel on the site at any one time, but it was very small for a military installation. My estimate is that there were not many more than 100 soldiers there at any one time, including FC and launching area personnel, as well as those in the battalion headquarters.

    Food
    The provisions for the site were obtained from Westover Air Force Base just across the state line in Massachusetts. The procedure was for two operators to drive a 2 ½ ton truck from the motor pool with a list of what was required. That list would be turned in at the appropriate warehouse, and everything requested would simply be placed on a loading dock. The enlisted man in charge would check to make sure all everything was there, sign a receipt, and the two of them would load the provisions onto the truck and drive back to the FC area.

    The orderly room building
    The orderly room building was subdiivided into a number of rooms. The orderly room itself was right there as one entered the building. Behind the counter was the first sergeant’s desk, and behind that was the door to the CO’s office. There was a room in which the CO could sleep while we were on hot battery status. In addition there was a small room with two cots for the two men who were on guard duty, during their 4 hours not on the gate. There was a large room to the left of the orderly room as one entered the building. It was a recreation room with a billiards table and a ping pong table and vending machines. Once a month or so, a person charged with looking after morale on site would show up here. We knew her only as Sam, and we never did quite figure out what she was supposed to do. Within that large room that contained the rec room there was also a small room that functioned as the post exchange.
    The PX was located in a room that was about 10 X 12 feet. One or two enlisted men were given the opportunity – and responsibility – of running the PX. It was open during mealtimes, and at other times due to demand and to the willingness of the guy running it. The one or two men operating the PX received a small percentage of the revenue from sales. Again, the proximity to Westover provided the opportunity to and means of this small Nike site to have a PX, and the routine for obtaining stock was essentially the same as for obtaining food for the mess hall, except for who made up the requisition. The PX stock consisted of anything that was needed or wanted by the men, soap, toiletries, etc. As you might suspect, given the era, cigarettes were a big seller. Toward the end of the life of the site, a new company commander decided that beer could be sold, and after that, many cases of beer would be added to the requisition for Westover AFB.

    Routine duties
    As one might expect of a radically hierarchical organization such as the army, many individuals were exempted from the most unpleasant jobs. Enlisted men assigned to battalion HQ did not have to pull guard or KP, nor did any personnel above the rank of E-4. Once one made E-5, however, he went on the duty roster for CQ (Charge of Quarters), which required staying awake all night. His alertness awake was checked about once an hour via phone from “cowboy,” which we assumed was the “handle” battalion headquarters. Each call had to be answered promptly, and the CQ gave his initials in the traditional alpha-bravo alphabet. The company clerk, who worked closely with the first sergeant and company commander, was likewise excused from what might be characterized as “dog work.” That left the12 or 14 FC operators and the equivalent launching area personnel (I do not know if they were referred to as “operators.”) to handle all guard duty at the FC and launching areas, and to pull all the KP. The launching area personnel took their meals at the FC mess hall, but there may have been some alternate food facility other than a full-fledged mess hall in the launching area?
    KP A soldier assigned to KP might be given either of two tasks, doing whatever the cook said (helping prepare the food, serving, washing, cleaning up, etc.), or dining room orderly (DRO), whose main task was to serve meals to the officers, who sat in a segregated part of the mess hall. As you can imagine, KP was an all too frequent and onerous task.
    Guard duty was also an all too frequent obligation, as so few men were on the duty roster. Guard duty was a 24 hour commitment, with four 2-hour shifts on post interspersed with four 4-hour shifts off. On post meant sitting in the small shack by the gate in the chain link fence around the FC area, and opening the gate whenever a car that had proper access to the site drove up. The guards rarely had to stop cars to ask for identification, as we soon learned to identify the cars that had access to the site, especially in light of the fact that relatively few operators had cars.

    Miscellany
    There were many tasks that simply had to be done as part of ordinary life. Keeping the barracks clean and one’s bed made was an obvious one. Painting was another occasional task we were assigned, and on a few occasions we were shaking our heads, as we were told to paint the shower floors to make them look good for an inspection from a level above the battery. What led us to shake our heads was that we were using water-based paint on the shower room floor!
    Another task was policing the area. I recall being lined up almost fingertip to fingertip and walking slowly along picking up cigarette butts and other trash to the refrain “If it ain’t moving, either pick it up or paint it.” But policing did not have to be done very often, as site personnel rarely threw trash on the ground.

    Odds and ends
    Not too long before the site was closed contractors came in and built a basketball court and bulldozed a softball field part of the way up the hill toward the radars. It was a very long time before we were permitted to step foot on either, because the army had not officially “accepted” them from the contractor. The same CO who told the PX that it was OK to stock beer told us to go ahead and use the court and the field. I have a vivid memory of a softball game between the FC and launching areas in which I played third base and a young African American soldier played shortstop. I took it with a grain of salt when he said that he had played for the Kansas City Monarchs – until I saw him play. He had such phenomenal range in the field and such a good arm that I just let anything to my left go! He could not hit a lick, though.

    Saying goodbye
    The site was decommissioned in 1961. Many of the AJAX sites were converted to fire the newer Hercules missile, but the Manchester site was shut down, and as far as I know it is now the site of the Manchester Recreation area. I still recall the zest we felt at doing the work involved in decommisioning the site, such as digging up cables.
    Shortly after we closed up shop, to the extent that we could, we were sent to Fort Totten in Queens, New York, to be mustered out. It was so well understood that duty on a Nike site was not conducive to a love of military life that we heard not a single word about reenlisting!

    1. Thank you very much for all the detailed information! I hope the Manchester Historical Society sees this and archives it in their records. I visited the Line Street site in 1961 on a third grade class trip. I have one photo from that day.

  6. So fun to read about my old neighborhood. Skied on the ski slope, rode my bike on Nike Circle, lived on Village Street and went through all the wooded paths in the area.

    1. Sounds like some great memories of the area.

  7. Hello,
    Can you enter these Trails by parking at the End of Santina drive?
    If so, is it ok to park here?

    Thanks!
    John

    1. I don’t know about Santina Drive, John. But, there is plenty of parking and access at the end of Garden Grove Rd.

      Chris

    2. Yes, a trail begins on the end of Santina Drive on Town property. Plenty of parking.
      If you find your way to Cairn Crossing, look for the blue-blazed Belknap Trail that loops through on of the nicest pine forests in the area. The hike to Lakeside Drive is about 3.5 miles out and back to Santina Drive.

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