Missile Test Facility


This weekend’s hike was another visit to Wompatuck State Park, in Hingham. As I’ve mentioned before, the park is built on land that had been converted to a munitions storage annex for the Hingham Naval Depot on the waterfront, a couple of miles away, during the Second World War. This time, I found a still-intact building.  Not that it was hard, you can almost see if from the nearby road (bike trail) and it shows up on online mapping tools thanks to the shadow it casts, which is how I knew to look for it on this trip.

Most of the buildings outside the “closed area” in the northwest corner of the Annex were torn down long ago, some as early as the 1960’s when portions of it were given to the state and became the park. Others may have closed later, as there is some fencing that seems in better repair in the central area.  And the final bit, from which most of the online photos of old buildings at the park come, wasn’t demolished until last summer, when the state finally came up with the money needed to deal with the asbestos-packed structures. I don’t think the “closed area” is closed now, although I haven’t hiked it yet and the map of the park hasn’t been updated to change its status.

This structure is outside the “closed area”, and I’m fairly sure, based on a couple of online photos and comments in the newsletter put out by the Friends of Wompatuck State Park, that this is Building 83, which was part of the missile test facility. The structure has an open back area facing the angled wall visible on the right, which made me think of a rocket-engine test facility the moment I saw it.  There are two small rooms on the left side, both windowless, and beyond the high wall is a concrete foundation that probably held a wood or cinderblock building, and likely had a loading dock for the rail line that served the building.

I walked that line, and while all that’s left are rotting ties buried in the dirt, it was in better repair than many of the older tracks, with some unrotted replacement ties and clear drainage ditches alongside the railbed.  There also weren’t any trees growing through the tracks.  It’s possible this portion wasn’t abandoned until the final 1995 closure, although I don’t believe they used trains here after the 1960’s.

Apparently, in addition to storing munitions for the Atlantic fleet, and loading powder into shells, the Annex was also home to a missile assembly facility, and some kind of associated test facility. The focus was on the Terrier and Tartar surface-to-air missiles used on smaller warships, although some work was apparently done on the ASROC antisubmarine missile. In one history, the Terrier is described as “the most successful surface-to-air missile in the Navy’s inventory during this timeframe”.

The missile facility was closed in the early sixties, shortly before the closure of the annex, according to one memoir by a former base officer I saw.  Apparently, though, some use of the northern end of the annex, which included the missile assembly buildings, lasted until the post-Cold War base closures in 1995.

Although the building is just a mostly-featureless concrete shell, and a canvass for graffiti, it was interesting to look at and think what it might have been like in operation.

I like this photo because of the subject, an old building gradually failing to time and weather.  Given how solid it is, that process will take a long time. But it’s already begun with cracks in the concrete that will expose the internal steel rebar to moisture and eventually lead to structural failure as the swelling steel causes the surface to “spall” and the structural integrity to break down. Nature is slow, but relentless.

This image is, as usual, an HDR made from five photos taken as a bracket at 1 EV offsets.  The bracket was centered at 1/200th-second exposure, with ISO 800, f/11 and the lens at 40mm. I used a circular polarizing filter, but backed it off to have fairly minimal effect.  In the HDR software, I used the Detailed preset, but made relatively few other changes, mostly boosting contrast and tweaking the level of light and dark areas to correct for the “flat” appearance the HDR process tends to create.  Back in C1 I applied the usual sharpening before export.


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