A Putting Green for Elves


What’s concrete, 200′ (60 m) long, 12′ (4m) wide and deep, and filled with dirt? I have no idea, but there’s a bunch of them out in the woods of Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Mass. It was, I’m actually fairly sure, a type of former munitions storage facility, from the days when this was the Hingham Annex, a Navy ammunition depot in WWII and the Korean War. I eventually found some information on them. But they’re not like anything I’ve run across elsewhere, and for most of the last week I’d searched in vain for information about them.

Normally, light munitions would be stored in concrete-block buildings atop a slab foundation, and heavy ones in buried concrete Quonset-style “igloos” such as the ones I found at ARNWR. And Wompatuck had a number of the latter, as well as conventional buildings. But this was a one-ended trench, about long enough to hold three large railcars, or five small ones, and with a track that ran in to the open end. The top shows no sign of mounting points for a roof. Perhaps a simple wooden one rested atop it, perhaps just camo netting. The sides appear to angle out slightly, suggesting explosives storage (direct a blast up, but at an angle to reduce the effect on the wall).

It’s not an isolated thing, either. There are at least a dozen visible in aerial photos, and I found several just walking down the bike trails and looking down well-trod side paths. They’re spaced a few hundred feet apart, and radiate off a couple of one-time railway loops, now paved and used as bike paths.

Since what was here was a large storage annex to the smaller main Naval Depot, and munitions were delivered by train, my best guess was that this was a parking space for boxcars full of explosives. Perhaps this is where they were kept before unloading, or as overflow space.  At ARNWR they stored arriving and departing railcars in an ordinary flat yard, but the Hingham Depot was close enough to the ocean to be shelled from a ship, so maybe they needed more secure storage. Or maybe this was a cheap way to store things that weren’t going to be here long enough to warrant unloading into an igloo.

I thought for a while it might have been for train-mounted missiles, but the Nike missiles based near here were a system that used a fixed mounting, although they had some that could be trucked around in other parts of the country. Rail-based missiles were a later idea of the 1980’s that never ended up being deployed.

I did eventually find a reference (this page, near the bottom) to construction at “The Cohasset Naval Magazine” (yet another name for the place) as including “barricaded sidings for 140 [railroad] cars”, and page 38 of an historical report on Navy ammunition storage (this PDF) shows a modern equivalent which looks essentially identical. So I’m pretty sure that’s what they were.  It was apparently not a common storage method. I’ve only found reference to its use here and in Chicago during the war, although from the modern photo they’re clearly still used.

They couldn’t have been easy to build. About half of this one was dug into a hillside, but the other end extends over what would have been a significantly lower spot they had to fill.  Off to the right, the ground drops away to a point well below the floor. They really had to want it right here, and this long. I’m not sure why someone bothered to fill it with dirt when it was closed, either. Maybe to keep the sides from collapsing on someone. Maybe to keep stray wildlife from falling in and breaking a leg.  It’s just weird.

I like this photo because there’s just something surreal about what looks like a golf-course green with concrete rails up in the air out in the woods. Just when I think New England’s shown me every variation of oddity, something like this turns up.

The photo is an HDR, albeit made from only two originals. Somehow I managed to blur the other three of the only bracket I took of this one (memo to self: bits are cheap, take more photos). And one of those was at 1/320-second exposure, how did I mess that up? Maybe this place just didn’t want its picture taken.  Anyway, the bracket was “centered” at 1/160-second, with the other surviving image at 1/640-second, and between them they gave me good coverage of the sky and ground.  The other numbers are f/11, ISO 800, and the lens was wide at 24 mm. No filter was used. I did a touch of Chromatic Aberration correction in Aperture, and in the HDR software used the Deep 2 preset, but tweaked Exposure and the amount of Tone Compression applied. I also boosted the Saturation, as it came out strangely flat in terms of color.


4 thoughts on “A Putting Green for Elves

    • The rails would have been removed in the seventies, when most of the track was sold for scrap (the only remaining rails are embedded in roads and not worth the effort to remove). While the ties were left in place on some lines in the woods, there were none on the approaches to these, which suggests they were pulled up to make access easier for filling in the dirt.

      The removed ties may be buried in the dirt, or in the rubble piles where buildings used to stand (now covered in dirt and with small trees growing out of them; a treasure-chest for future archaeologists). I didn’t see any piles in the woods; I think they were trying to return the site to as natural a state as possible.

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