• Benji Sills

Sandy Hook’s Abandoned Military Bases

Continuing our newfound fascination with abandoned places, Paige and I made the trek out to the seaside preserve of Sandy Hook. Despite what we eventually discovered hidden crumbling away on the beach, Sandy Hook did not initially give any indication of being abandoned. As we crossed the bridge over to the narrow peninsula, the sky became blotted out by a parade of parachutes. Dozens of people were paragliding just off the shore, all looking like they’d desperately lost control of a large grocery bag. It all seemed very “beach resort” - it was becoming hard to imagine a secret military base hidden only minutes away.

But the area’s history is steeped with military connections and the faded footprints of bygone eras are still very much present. We wanted to start our exploration at an abandoned missile launch site, so we plugged in the address and continued a few minutes up the road. It’s odd to note that this spot, once a highly classified top secret base, is now marked with an easy pinpoint on Google Maps that takes you directly to the site. Even more jarring is that it almost feels advertised now: as we pulled up to the site, we were greeted by two large replica missiles. At least we presumed them to be replicas, but didn’t get too close just in case.

These memorials are styled after Project Nike, a U.S. army project proposed by Bell Laboratories in 1945. This project developed the United States’ first anti-aircraft missile system, spurred on by fear of the Soviet Union, who had just completed their first successful atomic bomb test and developed a bomber capable of 10,000 mile distances. Many bases were equipped with Nike missiles, but few remain in any visitable condition today. The base on Sandy Hook however is a rare exception, although visitable may be a stretch.

We parked in a small lot beside the missiles and wandered across the street. A number of short, long buildings that resembled army barracks stood in rows behind a gate. Bold signage on the fence proclaimed “Authorized Vehicles Only”, but the gate was wide open and the buildings derelict. Combined with the fact that the map seemed to suggest no other pathways to the nearby public beach, we decided that it must be the way to go.

We knew the missile launch site would be close, but didn’t know exactly what to expect. After a short walk through a wooded path, passing only what appeared to be a shelled out garden shed, the trees thinned and the beach crawled into view. The waterfront was warm and inviting and blissfully empty, but otherwise unremarkable. The only hint of this area’s rich and frightening history was next to it, sectioned off by a rusting chain-link fence that surrounded what appeared to be a parking lot.

But with no mall in sight, we were forced to conclude we’d found the historic launch site. If not for the missile statue, the site would look like it was being zoned for a gas station - there are no plaques giving ode to its history, so we had to turn to later research. These sites are overwhelmingly unprotected and seem to gather a general disinterest from preservationists and the public. When I was looking for information on this particular launch site, the majority of links were about other ones for sale, including a South Jersey location up for grabs for commercial developers. It’s odd to think that instead of a Cold War museum or historic landmark, many of these sites will instead end up as a Best Buy.

After sorting through all of the property listings, we eventually found some information on what we’d been looking at. The reason the area looked so barren is because most of the launch materials would have been stored underground - the missiles were housed in subterranean silos about the size of a school gymnasium. All that remains today are faded markings and rusted bay doors. We momentarily perused the area by wandering the perimeter fence and then dashed the remaining hundred feet to the water.

In our uninformed excitement, we completely neglected to notice that only 1,000 yards from the launch site are a number of abandoned radar buildings. As we discovered later on, angrily swiping through pictures of more competent explorers, these buildings are quite eerie and almost entirely complete. Despite our ineptitude on this front, we still made ample use of our time at Sandy Hook. The peninsula is a treasure trove of notable ruins, dotted conspicuously all across the beach.

Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground are all part of a military base that defended New York Harbor from the late 1800's. They have left behind some spectacular ruins, including a number of abandoned batteries left open for exploration. The officers quarters also lay abandoned, although exploration of these ruins is not encouraged. Outlined against the harbor though, they do make for a spectacular sunset.

The missile launch site is landmarked on Google Maps as "Nike Missile Site NY-56, Launch Area" and can be found by the lower east side of Sandy Hook. The rest of the bases are scattered across the peninsula as well, mostly clustered towards the north end.

The sites are all open to the public and free to visit, although you may have to pay for parking unless you are visiting out of season or off-hours. Beach parking is $15 per vehicle during peak times (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day from 7AM-5PM daily). Off-season and evenings are free, however.

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