During the Cold War, the military erected missile sites around all major U.S. cities as part of Project Nike. Similar to the Civil War forts a century earlier, these missile sites formed a ring around the nation's capital to protect is from enemies. While the Civil War forts were built to defend against the Confederate Army, the missile sites were built to intercept long-range Soviet bombers laden with nuclear weapons. The missile sites were located in what was then the countryside, since the goal was to shoot down any planes before they reached densely populated areas. The locations of these missile sites are well documented, and information about them can be found easily online.
|Nike Hercules (front) and Ajax (back) missiles. Did we have these in Four Corners? Photo from Robert Sullivan on Flickr.|
When I first heard that there may have been a missile site or another type of anti-aircraft battery in Four Corners, I was skeptical. As stated, the missile sites that comprised Project Nike are well documented, and in some places there are historic markers denoting their locations (the Lorton site has one such marker). Also, most Nike missile sites were much farther from the city than Four Corners. The closest documented missile site to Washington D.C. was in Upper Marlboro, about 16 miles from the Capitol building (Four Corners is only 9 miles from the Capitol).
I was fairly certain there was no missile site here, but multiple people had said that there was some kind of anti aircraft battery in Four Corners, so I knew there had to be something there. To investigate, I decided to take a closer look at a 1957 aerial photo of the area which I own, and I found something very interesting.
|1957 view of the Northwood neighborhood depicting a small military base. University Boulevard is the road running from bottom center to top left. Northwood High School is at the very top of the image (a portion of the track is visible at top right).|
|A closer view of the barracks and vehicle storage area. Multiple M35 cargo trucks can be seen lined up in the parking lot, along with smaller jeeps and cars.|
|A ground mounted Skysweeper on a concrete pad, just like the ones used in Four Corners. Photo from Daniel DeCristo on Flickr.|
It's scary to think that a weapon like this was deployed in Four Corners, since it means that the military expected Soviet war planes to be flying over our community en route to bomb D.C. The Cold War was a tense conflict, and a gun battery like this reminded Four Corners residents of that fact everyday during the mid 50's. It must have been very eerie.
The site of this gun battery is just off Caddington Avenue on Whittington Terrace, and it is now occupied by the street itself and several homes. No trace of the military base or the gun emplacement remains (although if you dug in the ground, I'm sure you could find some evidence of the base).
While there may not have been any Nike missiles in Four Corners, we played our small part in the Cold War with some anti-aircraft guns.