Former missile site near Hecker up for auction
By Alan DooleyA view from underground at the shuttered Nike Hercules missile site near Hecker. For more photos, visit www.republictimes.net/photo-store. (Alan Dooley photo)
A former Cold War era U.S. Army anti-aircraft missile launch site will go on the auction block Saturday, July 12, at Hecker Community Center. The site, on a hill off M Road east of Hecker, is owned by Career Center of Southern Illinois — formerly known as Beck Area Career Center.
The center is not closing. Located nearby on the former site of administrative buildings and barracks for the missile facility, it continues to serve area education needs with a number of programs, including regional and national award-winning programs in nursing, high-tech welding, auto repair and other trades.
Buy a Farm Land and Auction Company of Sparta will open bidding for the former missile site at 10 a.m., with a minimum bid of $70,000 for the plot and everything on and in it.
The property for sale consists of approximately 14 acres, three buildings and three underground bunkers with operating hydraulic elevators and nearly four acres of paved area.
The bunkers, previously used as a maintenance and storage area for a car collector, are 62 feet, 6 inches by 68 feet each. Each underground concrete bunker is served by a 10 foot by 55 foot hydraulic elevator that originally lifted missiles to their launch sites. Each bunker originally housed four missiles.
Overhead heights in the concrete bunkers are estimated at 12 feet and higher between concrete structural beams.
What might someone do with what are essentially three concrete-lined holes in the ground and three old buildings?
CCSI Director Mark Stuart said many Nike sites have simply been bulldozed and filled. One has become the center of a community of high value homes, with the bunkers being converted into dome covered swimming and recreation areas.
Stuart told reporters Friday that he could envision a business seeking very secure storage or other secure facility being interested.
News of the missile site sale has drawn quite a bit of interest across the country, Stuart said. And the site, located on the highest point in Monroe County, offers an incredible view.
Pre-sale inspection tours will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 26 and 2 to 4 p.m. on June 27. Call 1-800-357-4020 or visit www.BuyAFarm.com for more information.
What might have been
Let us take an imaginary, fanciful journey into the era that spawned the Nike Hercules Base at Hecker. It never really happened this way, but it might have.
Late one wintry night in 1961, people in farm houses and the small community of Hecker might have awakened abruptly to thunderous explosions and roars from a hilltop nearby. Some would have sprung quickly from beds to see streaks of fire roaring into the sky. They might have turned on radios and learned to their horror that waves of Russian bombers were descending over the
North Pole, with one large concentration heading for St. Louis and defense industry targets there.
Nike Hercules missiles from U.S. Army anti-aircraft missile base SL-40 near Hecker were screaming into the sky to try to take formations of Russian Bear and Bison bombers with nuclear warheads designed to bring down groups of attackers and simultaneously render their nuclear weapons inoperative.
Again, this never happened. But had it occurred, the site near Hecker was ready to defend St. Louis and its vital defense industrial defense manufacturing base.
Older Monroe County citizens remember the Cold War era that dawned after World War II as Russian power swept from Eastern Europe to the Pacific. But those who do remember a time when school students conducted periodic “Duck and Cover” drills, huddling under desks when ordered to by school speaker systems. And they took this seriously.
Elsewhere, families across the nation built bomb and fallout shelters in their yards or under their houses to evacuate into in case of an enemy attack. Equipped with food, water and chemical toilets, they hoped to survive until radiation would die down.
Some 145 Nike missile installations were built across the U.S. They included bases built for the earlier Nike Ajax missiles and converted to support Nike Hercules missiles — which were larger, had greater range and speed and most carried nuclear warheads.
The base near Hecker – designated as SL-40 – was started in 1958 and became operational in 1959. Along with bases at Marine and Pierre Marquette in Illinois and another at Pacific, Mo., four Nike Hercules bases were built to defend St. Louis.
The facility in Hecker closed 10 years later in 1969.
The base consisted of three parcels of land totaling almost 228 acres. The land was purchased for $22,450 in 1958 and base construction cost about $2.6 million.
A cluster of buildings for base housing and administrative became the Beck Center in 1971 and is today the CCSI school site. The nearby 14-acre launch site soon to be sold is still owned by the school and sale receipts will be used by the school. Some 200 acres used for range safety and line-of-sight easements have previously been returned to farm use.
The site for sale was briefly used by Beck for diesel and auto mechanic training, but that need was better served by facilities at the school’s site about a mile away. Since then, it has been maintained by a private individual. In return for his diligent work maintaining the site, he has been allowed to store and maintain collectable vehicles there.
Military history experts say the site near Hecker is the best-preserved Nike site nationwide. No other features three operational elevators.
Hopefully, it will continue to serve the region and be a historical memory of a bygone era that we can be thankful never came to fruition.
The Hecker Nike base served well by never going into action. Now, it will serve education needs by its sale.