When The Cold War Came To Town

Orangeburg Control Base NY-03/04 wouldn’t stand out any more on a local map today than from1954 to 1974, but during that time it was one of the most crucial surface-to-air missile sites in a complex national air defense network, which included radar installations, civilian ground observers and command centers. Combined with sites in New Jersey, the network formed one of the largest defensive rings in the nation designed as a last chance to intercept Soviet bombers. The site was strategically placed at one of the highest points in the area and was armed with various types of missiles throughout its existence. Fortunately, the site was never put to the test.

In the 1950s a total of sixty Nike Ajax missiles were perched on the hill in Orangeburg. These were the first surface-to-air missiles deployed by the United States and were so crude by today’s standards that they were directed towards the target by ground operators with the hope of getting close enough for the blast to cause damage. What these missiles lacked in technology, however, they made up for in number. Later, the Ajax missiles were replaced with 18 nuclear tipped Hercules missiles. These missiles still used a command guidance similar to the Ajax, but the Hercules relied on a high altitude nuclear blast to destroy its targets, eliminating the need for improved accuracy.

The site was decommissioned in 1974 and was eventually opened to the public. It hasn't changed much since and is now a great local spot to hike and explore, especially when the parking lot at Tallman Mountain State Park is full on the first nice day of spring. In quiet meadows with open views, the remnants of a massive infra- structure remain as a local reminder that something big and dark once occupied this now peaceful spot.