Lorton Nike Missile Site E-97
The ceremonial first public display of the Nike Hercules in the San Francisco Defense Area, on Jan. 20, 1959
List of Nike missile sites
Washington-Baltimore Defense Area
Typical Nike Ajax Launch Area underground magazine.
US Strategic and Defensive Missile Systems 1950-2004
Backstory and Context
LORTON NIKE MISSILE SITE E-97
The site at Lorton was selected because it was a short distance from Washington, and the Federal Government already owned the land. Situated on thirty acres, the Lorton site was a "double site" in that it had six rather than three magazines and twice the normal staff, according to Chris Bright, a scholar and author who has extensively researched and written about the Cold War era and NIKE Missile sites. The Secretary of the Army dubbed the Lorton site the "National NIKE Site" and it became a showplace for visiting foreign dignitaries as well as national and local politicians. For a period of time, local citizens were encouraged to visit, and Scout troops were frequently invited to tour the facility. The launch area could be seen from Furnace Road while the radar site was located just off Silverbrook Road. By 1958, a new NIKE-Hercules missile had been developed and many were equipped to carry nuclear warheads. The Lorton site, which had formerly housed NIKE-Ajax missiles, was converted to provide for the new missiles. Only about one-third of the sites nationwide were chosen for conversion. To effect the conversion, gas detection systems were installed to detect leaks in the tritium gas detonation system and elevator motors and mechanisms that lifted the missiles to the surface had to be upgraded to accommodate the heavier missile. Not all NIKE-Hercules missiles carried nuclear warheads, but analysts later suggested that those at the Lorton site were indeed nuclear missiles.
The historical marker reads:
Located North of here was one of three Nike anti-aircraft missile complexes in Fairfax County operated by the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard between 1954 and 1974. The sites were established during the Cold War to defend Washington from Soviet air attack. This complex, along with those at Great Falls and Fairfax, was among thirteen Nike sites that surrounded Washington and Baltimore. The ring of Nike sites was reminiscent of the perimeter of forts that protected the capital during the Civil War. This was the only Nike complex in Fairfax County containing missiles armed with nuclear warheads. It served as a model site for visits by foreign dignitaries.