Neighborhood Nukes in South Jersey
In the rural Southern New Jersey community of Woolwich Township are the remains of another cold war relic, Nike Missile Battery PH-58. Unlike the Lumberton site, PH-23/25 from my previous post, when this site was decommissioned in 1974, it remained abandoned and was never repurposed. Now it stands as a dilapidated, overgrown memory of a time when our military needed to defend our major cities against an attack with nuclear warheads mounted on surface to air guided missiles.
I was pleasantly surprised when the Woolwich Township Committee agreed that this site needed to be preserved photographically and gave me permission to do so. My guide was one of the town’s Committeeman named Jordan Schlump. I owe him a lot of gratitude because he happily agreed to work a photographer’s schedule, starting before sunrise on several cold mornings.
Nike missile batteries were divided into two sections. One was the Integrated Fire Control (IFC) or radar section for tracking enemy aircraft and guiding the missiles. The other was the Launcher Area where the Nike missiles were stored, maintained and would have been launched if necessary. These two sections of a Nike battery were about a mile or more apart. There were technical reasons for this, but one result was that the personnel stationed at the IFC and the Launcher Area lived separately and sometimes developed a rivalry with each other. Why not? The radar guys must have been the geeks working on computers and radar scopes while the launcher crews were the mechanics who got their hands dirty keeping the Nikes in prime flying condition.
Another difference between this Nike missile site and the one in Lumberton is that the rural farm land around it is not much different than it would have been in the 1950’s and 60’s. As I walked around PH-58, I could imagine what it was like to be stationed here. These soldiers were carrying out an important, but probably monotonous duty watching the skies for Russian bombers that, thankfully, never came. Being stationed in a rural South Jersey must have also left little for these young men to do when off duty.
Integrated Fire Control (IFC) Radar Section
The layout of this section included four radar towers and control and generator buildings. Although the site was pretty well cleaned out, there were still quite a few leftover elements of its active duty days. The site is very overgrown making exterior photographs of the buildings and towers difficult, if not impossible.
Barracks and Administrative Buildings
Right next to the IFC is the barracks and administrative area which has three simple, one story buildings that contained the headquarters, mess hall, living quarters and other services for the soldiers stationed there. Again, overgrowth around the buildings made it impossible to photograph the exteriors.
The Launcher Section – Magazines
The Nike missiles were stored underground in large missile magazines. They would have been brought up to the surface for launching on large elevators. Security around the magazines was tight. In addition to armed soldiers, guard dogs roamed the area at night.
The Launcher Section – Missile Assembly Building
This building would have been where the Nikes were assembled and maintained. They would then be moved to the Warhead building to be armed.
The Launcher Section – The Warhead Building
This simple building would be used to arm the missiles. It was surrounded by a high dirt berm in order to help contain an accidental explosion. While that berm would have worked in the early days of the Nike missile program, one wonders how much help that berm would have been once the Nikes went nuclear.
The Launcher Section – Other Buildings
There were other buildings in the launcher section including a Ready Building with rooms for meetings, arms storage and one of the few restrooms. There was also a barracks, generator building, chemical storage building and a water filtration plant.
Honoring Our Cold War Veterans
The soldiers of the cold war were tasked to defend our nation against the threat of a nuclear holocaust that was unprecedented in world history. The Nike missilemen at PH-58 and other missile batteries were the last line of defense. Using sophisticated radar and nuclear guided missiles they guarded our cities and industrial centers from Russian bombers carrying atomic bombs. The fact that our military was willing to detonate a nuclear device over US soil shows how desperate we were during the cold war to defend our country. If these soldiers were called to actually practice their craft, the world would have been in the gravest of situations.
Click Here for more photographs of this and other Nike missile sites
Thanks for the images and words. Both provide a fascinating insight into the history of that period and a sense of how quickly something so present becomes past. It seems your photographs will be the act of preservation as the site looks too far gone to be saved even in its current state.
Thanks, as always, for your comments Laura. This site is definitely too far gone to be preserved. It is the only intact Nike missile site in the Philadelphia area, but from what I hear, it is slated for redevelopment. I’m glad I was able to photograph it to help preserve this important, and scary time in history.
It really is hard to believe that this facility at one time was there to defend and deliver nuclear warheads. I really do not consider 1974 when this facility was decommissioned that long ago- just a little over 40 years. It is just amazing how it has become so dilapidated. Another interesting post Rick. Thank you.
Thanks Larry. It’s not just the fact that this facility closed 40 some years ago that intrigues me, it’s that there were nuclear missiles housed there, ready to fire at a moments notice.
Great tour of this Nike site…the proximity to cities and housing for these places still amazes me.
Thanks for the compliment, Robert. The one thing that is still find amazing and is that these sites with nuclear warheads were located right next door in the towns surrounding the cities and industrial centers they were defending.
We had them here in CT
They were defending Bridgeport and Hartford. I believe they are all gone now. The land in those areas is valuable real estate so it wouldn’t remain vacant.
I went to one in Middletown, CT – the FCC has been converted into a Fire and Rescue training center for the town.
This site is one of the only ones I’ve seen that was closed and never repurposed or demolished although that will change soon as it is slated for demolition. In a previous post I posted photos of PH23/25 in Lumberton New Jersey. The barracks and administrative buildings were used as a private school for leaning disabled children before it was abandoned and demolished. Parts of the launcher area are still around and used for storage by the Public Works Department. Did you photograph the site in Middletown?
Yes I did…nothing as interesting as what you found though…
I was stationed at PH-58 Swedesboro, NJ 1962 – 1964….Then transferred to Headquarters, Pedricktown, NJ….
Thanks for your comments John. I’m not sure if we have met but your name sounds familiar. I’d love to talk to you sometime about your experiences in Swedesboro and Pedricktown.
I was the Assembly Sergent at PH-58 in 1963-1964.My office was in the Assembly Bldg.I helped remove warheads and put in retested warhead from a tested lab(don’t know where they were tested)in Warhead Bldg.It’s hard to believe all the trees and shrubs that have grown there.
Bittersweet memories of my own time in Florida. There I was an electronics specialist for nuclear warhead support. It’s only in recent times that the true gravity of the situation has come back to haunt me, badly. I thank God that we never heard the “Blazing Skies” alert call and tell myself that what we did was in service to our country. Small comfort when you speculate on what would could have been. To this day I shy away from viewing images of nuclear clouds.
Dennis thank you so much for your thoughts here and for your service to our country. I can only imagine what it would have been like for you had the alert been called. You Nike Missile Men were our last line of defense and the idea that you would have detonated a nuclear device so close to our shores must be a tough thing to live with. However, As you said, thank God it did not happen. I do hope you take comfort in the fact that the alternative to not having these Nike missiles would have been worse than having to use them to defend our shores.
Richard, these photo’s bring back some memories as I was stationed there from 6/72 – 7/74 and left just before it was dismantled. Some of the pics I don’t recognise but others I can. I was an mp so I recognized the guard shack. It was just a square bulding with a counter in the front were the dog handlers let the dogs rest. It’s sad to see the site in such poor condition, you’d think the gov’t would have turned it into a park for memories.
My best friend on base was Steve Ganitch (also an mp), I was his best man and he introduced me to my wife. I was married in 1974 while stationed in PH-58, and we’re still married for 42 years. When I was dating my wife, should we bring me dinner when I worked guard duty and pass it through the fence. We had a some good times in old Swedesboro and maybe we’ll reuturn the see the shell of its remains.
I was sent to Germany for the next few years and ets in late 1977.
I really think that they should have preserved a lot of the sites like this especially the ones with such history behind them well they all have the history but I was going to touch when I watched it explores video and they went through and pointed out the names of the dogs on the kennel there they said King Princr and Teddie I thought that was very nice to see the dogs names remembered and honored for their service and Duty
I am 78 years old now. In May 1956 my first military assignment was Site 58. It was D Battery, 176 AAA Msl Btry, Swedesboro, New Jersey. I was an Acquisition Radar Operater for two years prior to being assigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas attending a year long Technical School on repair of the radar systems and a ratty analogue computer. Your pictures and short stories brought back pleasant memories for an old man as a 17 year old Army Private.
David, thank you so much for your comment and for your service to your country, especially at such a young age. You were probably there when this site opened and it must have looked a lot different. Thanks also for sharing a little of your history at PH-58. One of the reasons I photographed these sites and blogged about them was to bring to light the importance of Nike program to our defense at the time. I’m also glad that these photographs and comments from others brought back some good memories. Thanks again for your comment.
I was a 16C (Radar Operator) stationed stationed at PH-58 (to us Battery 3-43, from June 73 until the closing (when I was lucky to get sent down to the remaining Nike sites in Miami. Glad to share some storied of those last months if readers are interested.
I have a dozen scanned digital m photos of the site taken in 2000 (when I escorted a Philadelphia Inquire reporter around the grounds).. Includes diagrams of the IFC area and some nice aerial photos (from on-line service) of the IFC and launcher area.
Glad to share if you have a way for me to send them to you!
I would love to see the photos and hear your stories. For the photos, I can send you a link to upload them to a dropbox folder online or you may just be able to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the stories, you can also email them to me or feel free to leave them in a comment here. Either way, I’ll share them on this blog and with the Nike Historical Society if you want me to. Thanks for your comments!
Hi Rich, Really enjoyed the pictures and comments of PH-58 – nice job! But the site looked a lot better when I was stationed there from 1962 to 1965:) I was assigned there right after basic training at Fort Dix, NJ. When I got to the site the CO interviewed me and assigned me to the IFC (Fire Control) area where I started to learn to become a MTR (Missile Track Radar) operator. I learned quickly and became a good crew member.
I really enjoyed it and over the years we had a number of Blazing Skies(Battle Station) drills from various command organizations. We also had interesting testing when the Air Force came onsite and we were tested on detecting and practice firing on their bombers as they did a practice bombing attack on Philadelphia. It was so great being on the firing crew several times as we launched Nike missiles at White Sands Range in New Mexico as part of our SNAP (Short Notice Annual Practice) which occurred once a year.
The radar antennas at PH-58 were on the ground when I first got there, then the towers were built and the antennas were raised on them. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, guards were doubled, we carried gas masks and weapons while on duty. I remember sleeping on the floor in the radar van at night when on the active crew.
After about 2 years I was promoted to SP5 (E-5) and moved from the regular barracks to the NCO barracks. I really enjoyed my time at B Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery at Swedesboro, NJ.
Thanks for all the details of your service at PH-58. It nice to have this information. The goal is that this post serves to help preserve some important history. When I started photographing the Lumberton battery PH23/25 I had no idea the role these sites played in our defense. Since then vets like you who served in the Nike program have provided some great information. Thanks again for your comment and compliment on my work.
Hey Rich, great job document this South Jersey piece of history. I was wondering if Lawrence Croll decided to share the pics he had taken in 2000. I would be very interested in seeing them. If so could you direct me to a link if they were uploaded somewhere. Again thank you for documenting these important historical sites. Dave
Thanks Dave for the compliment and I agree about the importance of documenting this important piece of history. There are not many of these Nike batteries left. Lawrence did send me some photos from 2000. In fact I need to get back to him because he has been really great about identifying various places around the IFC where he served. If he is okay with me uploading his photos, I will put them somewhere that you can access them.
Rich, thanks for the wonderful memories I was stationed at the Swedesboro site from Sept.1967 to May 1970, I had several duties, Missile technician, Sgt of Guard, and Battery clerk.
Hi Gene. Thanks for your comment and sharing a little of your experience in the Swedesboro battery. Of course, thanks for your service too.
PH-47 in pitman nj is still intact and I can get you in there to take pictures of the underground silos
I would love that. Thank you.
Richard, so enjoyed these pictures but I am 70 yo and remember touring the Nike Base when I was young and it was fully functional. Parades in Swedesboro had soldiers, trailers with rockets and tanks and lots and lots of patriotic pride. The Cold War had my brother in Iceland for the same purpose. Keep on keeping the memories alive. Mary Ann (Worrell) Grasso