Air Force Bases

Nike Missile Battery PR-79 Foster Rhode Island

The Foster NIKE Missile Battery PR-79 is significant because it is a representative example of NIKE batteries in New England and in Rhode Island. PR-79 is an intact, physical manifestation of American military history, and in particular, the Cold War in the United States and as such, it demonstrates the technology and prevailing political attitudes of the 1950s.

NIKE Battery PR-79, in Foster, Rhode Island, is one of the best-preserved NIKE installations in New England. During decommissioning, missiles, fueling and guidance systems were removed but the remaining buildings provide a rich level of interpretative material. The Foster site typifies the NIKE system in its technical, operational and architectural elements and is a physical manifestation of American military history and of our nation's involvement in the Cold War.

New England Defense

Continuing a tradition of coastal defense dating back to the eighteenth century, many types of Cold War fortifications were constructed in the Northeast. In addition to building NIKE sites in New England, Cold War construction resulted in a score of Air Force installations as well as aircraft warning stations. Loring AFB in Limestone, ME, completed in 1950, was among the first Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases constructed in New England. In Bangor, ME, Dow AFB was built in the early 1950s as was Pease AFB in Portsmouth, NH, completed in 1954. Otis AFB, near Falmouth, MA, Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA, and Ethan Allen Field in Burlington, VT, were all major installations of the Air Defense Command.

Aircraft warning stations within New England were spread from Cape Cod to northern Vermont with stations at Charleston, Bucks Harbor, and Caswell, ME and at North Concord, VT. Scattered throughout these stations were small remote-controlled installations consisting of a radar tower and small cement equipment building, "positioned so as to detect planes that might penetrate under the radar sweeps of the main stations by coming in low from the sea or along major river valleys."

Also constructed during this period were emplacements for radar-controlled 75-millimeter antiaircraft batteries near Loring and Dow AFBs, and in a ring around Boston from Lynn in the north to Hull in the south.

From 1955 through 1957, 35 NIKE installations were completed throughout New England: 4 in Maine, 14 in Massachusetts, 12 in Connecticut and 5 in Rhode Island. These sites protected Loring AFB, ME; Boston, MA; Bridgeport and Hartford, CT; and Providence, RI.

Initially, all batteries throughout New England were supplied with Ajax missiles. When the Hercules missile was developed, it was placed in selected batteries around Boston, Bridgeport, Hartford, Providence and Loring.

PR-79 Missile Battery

The Foster NIKE Missile Battery PR-79 is located approximately 15 miles west of Providence off State Highway 101. In a rural region, both locales (Launch and Control Areas) are surrounded by second-growth forest of deciduous and evergreen trees. The Launch Area, on East Windsor Road, is on the top of a hill and just east of Rhode Island's highest elevation of 812 feet. The Control Area, on Tucker Hollow Road, is located at the top of Oak Hiil, less than a mile across a small valley from the Launch Area. Sixteen units of Capehart housing are located on Boss Road, about one-half mile north of the Launch Area. The Launch and Control areas are accessible from State Highway 101 and are, by automobile, about 8-10 minutes apart. Both were laid out according to the recommended guidelines of the COE, with slight variations due to local conditions.

On October 31, 1955, the United States government took seven tracts of land with a total of 59.7 acres, owned by five owners, through a condemnation authorized by Congress. The land was acquired for $3,100.00 and was used for the Launch Area, Control Area, fire protection and security barrier, and line-of-sight between the two areas. There are several restrictions in the deed including "the right to prohibit gatherings of more than twenty-five (25) people" on the land, removal of existing roads, "the right to trim, cut, fell and remove there from [sic] all trees, underbrush and obstructions, and any other vegetation, structures, or obstacles within the limits of the right-of-way" and the "right to remove, raze or destroy those portions of buildings, other structures, and land infringing upon or extending into or above the line-of-sight clearance." Two lines-of-sight were described. The first was a triangular plane surface connecting the Battery Control Site and the Battery Launching Site. The other was a rectangular plane 20 feet in width connecting the two sites. Sometime before 1958, an additional 10.21 acres was taken, some of which was used for Capehart housing. Much of the land was farm land or orchard.

In 1964, the Launch and Control Areas were declared excess by the General Services Administration (GSA). The Launch Area was turned over to the Rhode Island State Police in 1965 and the Control Area to the Foster School District. Capehart housing was declared excess by the GSA in 1968 and sold in 1970 to Coffey and Teachout of Burlington, VT, who developed the site into private housing.

PR-79 is in a remarkable state of preservation, which is due in part to the fact that the Launch Area was taken over by the Rhode Island State Police, a military-like organization. The State Police have carefully maintained the site and have made few changes, thus, keeping the military/security feel to the area. Even spaces around the missile-storage structures, despite their current state of disuse, are regularly mowed and cleared of any debris. Their visual impact has been maintained and they can be understood despite the removal of the missiles themselves.

The construction of the firing range sometime after 1964 involved removing a large earthen berm and possibly fueling structures; this disturbance has compromised the integrity of this area, since the Acid Fueling Station was a critical component of the NIKE procedure. Overall, however, the site maintains a high degree of integrity.

The Control Area has undergone very few changes and is an excellent example of a 1950s NIKE site, as well. While it has not been as meticulously maintained as the Launch Area, the plan and intent of the original scheme are readily evident. However, the Control Area has suffered a loss of integrity as a result of the removal of radar equipment and vans when the site was decommissioned. There is little evidence of the historical activities that took place there, but this would be true of most decommissioned NIKE sites.

Site PR-79 Control Area Photos
Site PR-79 Launch Area Photos
Site PR-79 More Launch Area Photos