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Remnants of Holmdel’s Cold War Past

Lecture by Nike Missile site historian at Holmdel Historical Society attracts 35 curious people. Some shared their own memories of the site.

Large satellite antennas on top of Holmdel's Phillips Park were part of a mostly-secret anti-aircraft defense program operated by the US government during the Cold War,  Donald E. Bender told the Holmdel Historical Society on April 12.  

Bender gave a detailed presentation to 35 people at the Society's April 12 meeting at the Community Center about the circumstances and the actual protocol for anti-aircraft defense programs in Holmdel Park, Phillips Park, and around the New York City area. Bender, from Livingston, N.J., is the author of a historical study called the New Jersey Nike Missile Site Survey.

Many Holmdel residents know there used to be families living in small government owned houses on the premises known as Phillips Park, until around 1995. 

Bender described that the large satellite structures left behind, which can be seen off Telegraph Hill Road, near Phillips Park, were used as antennas in conjunction with a complex anti-aircraft defense system used prominently in most major American cities throughout the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s.

In fact, according to Bender, there were 25 different bases in the New York/New Jersey area like the one in Holmdel during this period.

Holmdel was chosen for a missile site for a few reasons. The huge hill was advantageous in anti-aircraft defense. It was an, “adequate” distance away from New York,  and the land was relatively easier to obtain. (Bender noted the US government had to use ‘eminent domain’ to acquire some pieces of land for missile site.)

Finally, Holmdel was in a good strategic position next to other missile sites in Middletown and Old Bridge.  According to Bender, the nearby bases had to cover for each other if anything went wrong, there would be more chances to shoot down enemy aircraft.

During the lively question and answer session that followed, a former worker at the Holmdel Nike Missile site in 1958 described how one of the missiles blew up while he was there when the missiles were being upgraded. 

Ken England worked there before the use of the Hercules. Too many missiles were being fixed at one time, according to Bender, and a worker triggered a warhead. He called it a “terrible accident” and scared sick for almost a week after the incident. 

The base’s nightmare scenario shows how different the world was during the Cold War.

These missile sites were "the last fixed defense of major American cities," said Bender.

It is a chilling reminder of how the Cold War was experiencd in Holmdel, and the United States. 

Jeff Gollin April 18, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Seems like a timely moment to pose a question that vexes me more and more as the years go by. Everyone knows that "Indian Hill" is located off Holmdel Rd. adjacent to the elementary school. Every historic reference and map I've read tends to confirm this. Yet Indian Hill isn't really situated on much of a "hill" but rather on a rather small shoulder of the much larger Telegraph Hill (where the old Nike site was located). Which begs the question: Was what we now call "Telegraph Hill" actually the Indian Hill of Holmdel's early history and prehistory? (Place-names are often borne of dominant terrain features and the summit of modern-day Telegraph Hill was (& is) definitely the dominant terrain-feature of the area. The reason why this might be important is that, if the location of Indian Hill was actually the top of Telegraph Hill, accounts of various conjectured trail routes referencing Indian Hill would have to be rethought and possibly altered. Anyone know anything?
David N. Bergeron April 18, 2011 at 07:47 PM
The Monmouth County Parks System may be the folks to ask.
Christina Johnson April 18, 2011 at 08:25 PM
What an interesting question, Jeff! I asked Township Historian George Joynson what he thought. He wrote: According to the Sketchbook of Historic Holmdel, “Indian Hill” was named by the Lenni Lenape Indians who used the crest of the hill where the cemetery is today as their tribal burial grounds. A favorite tale passed down through the generations recalls how, near this site, the sons of two Indian chiefs engaged in battle over a young Indian maiden. In 1976, people could still find Indian artifacts such as arrowheads, axe heads and wampum in this area. The Holmdel Historical Society has several of these Sketchbooks left for sale at www.holmdelhistory.org./Sketchbook.html I do not know much more about the origin of Indian Hill Cemetery other than its earliest known burial dates back to 1834. I do not know the surrounding topography to determine if it is the top of the hill, nor the reason for selecting that spot for a burial in 1834. I am not aware of any evidence or proof of unmarked Indian burials prior to 1834, although it would be nice to know. George

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