Nike Missiles and Lorton Prisoners-Not Your Usual Cell Mates

My friends accuse me of making some of these little facts about Northern Virginia up.  Nope the stories are all real....well okay the one about the hook hanging on the car door at Lake Accotink....not so much.

However the story of the Lorton Prison being the site of the Army's premier showcase for the nationwide Nike program unveiled in 1954 is true.  One of the big issues that the government faced when it was trying to build defenses against the threat of a nuclear attack was acquiring the land necessary to develop the missile defense sites.  Most people think of the missiles being stored in remote destinations out west but not in Fairfax County VA. 

Since the Army was tasked with finding sites that we already government owned the Lorton Prison site on 3200 acres just 25 miles south of DC was a logical choice.  The Army carved out a 30 acre parcel on the prison grounds and began fortifying the site to protect it from intruders.  Up until this time the Lorton Prison had been considered an "open campus" prison and the addition of Nike Missiles caused officials to move prisoners to a more secure environment.

The Army added new guard towers to the prison, began patrols of the grounds with guard dogs and added intrusion alarms to the perimeter fences.  As the 1950's drew to a close and the threat of a nuclear war diminished the Army began to dismantle some of the other local sites.  The National Guard took control of the missile site at Lorton and kept it as a training site until 1973 when the Secretary of the Army James Schlesinger ordered the site closed and destroyed.

Today the only way you would know that the site existed is by the one historical marker that you find on Furnace Road.  As part of the master plan for the revitalization of the Lorton Prison site an area has been set aside for a National Cold War Museum.   Whether the museum will actually come to fruition is unknown at this time, as it would need to be built with private not public funds..

So there you have it.  Who would make this stuff up?  Prisoners and Nike Missiles in Lorton VA.  My how times have changed.


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Comment balloon 8 commentsCindy Jones • August 25 2008 06:21AM


Thanks for the history lesson.  I have driven by the Nike site that is located in Great Falls, Va but have never had the chance to stop and read the marker.

I am glad to see how the Lorton area has improved over the years by the pictures I have seen since the shutdown of the prisons on both sides of Rt 123.  I always used to go by that area to stop in at Burke Lake Park to do some golfing.

Posted by David Smith (United Country - Homeplace Properties) about 11 years ago

Now that I didn't know. I knew a lot about the sub-terra real estate in and around the DC area, but that fact about Lorton prison is one to add to the Nike missile stories. I had first discovered these bases from an old ADC Map Book... several really maps. Montgomery, P.G. and Northern VA books from the late 60's. They are a hoot when you look at them today and see where urban sprawl has taken us.

Back then these bases where no longer much of a secret if they ever were. They surround DC like satellites. Their locations were clearly marked and noted in the ADC maps. Looking at these old maps today you can also see something which seems like a great idea now,... an outline for a proposed "Outer Beltway".

Of course the beltway was a toddler back then. A mere two lanes in either direction if you can imagine (or remember), yet deemed a "Super Highway" of the day. I remember my folks telling me that when the Beltway opened, people would take joyrides around the entire loop. It was the happening thing to do, and they would likely make a day of it by driving into a Hot Shoppes for the lunch the car hops would hang on the car door, then perhaps head to the Drive-In Theater for a triple feature. Gas was cheap (like 26 cents a gallon) and central AC was a luxury.

Gosh I feel old.  :(

Interesting Fact: Not all of these bases went entirely away. Some are active underground installations. And if you know where to look, you can even see them from Google Earth. And since I have a busy day and no time to waste with the MIB, we'll end this here.  ;)


Posted by Rob & Jeannie Steward - Realtors®, We Work TWICE As Hard For You! - Ashton Group (RE/MAX Advantage) about 11 years ago

David-there was another site in Herndon as well.  All those years of "duck and cover" seem a bit silly now but the fear was real at the time.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) about 11 years ago

Rob-sounds as if you and I could sit around and do the "do you remember when" stories about the area.  All I can say is my parents bought a house in Springfield to move us to the country.  It was then.  Eggs from the "egg man" on Keene Mill Rd, dairy products delivered to the house and veggies from one of the many farmers around the area.  Ahhh cheap gas.  I could fill up my VW Bug for under $3.00 for an entire TANK of gas and go for weeks :-)

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) about 11 years ago

LOL - Yeah Cindy. We date ourselves huh. Well, I've got a little ways to go before joining the AARP, but I remember when the stretch of 355 between Rockville & Gaithersburg was nothing but corn fields and dairy farms. And if you blinked you'd fly right through Gaithersburg altogether!

But hey, TV shows back then didn't say (In HD Where Available) at the bottom of the title credits. Instead they would say (In COLOR).


Posted by Rob & Jeannie Steward - Realtors®, We Work TWICE As Hard For You! - Ashton Group (RE/MAX Advantage) about 11 years ago

Rob & Jeannie-Watch out those AARP cards arrive in the mail when you least expect them!  Pretty soon we will be talking about walking in 3 feet of snow uphill for 5 miles to get to school.  Oh wait that was my mom :-)

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) about 11 years ago

Ughh!  An AARP application just arrived! Don't they know I'm only 29?   ;)

Posted by Rob & Jeannie Steward - Realtors®, We Work TWICE As Hard For You! - Ashton Group (RE/MAX Advantage) about 11 years ago

I just interviewd the "go-to" people in the missile base niche on my podcast. Check it out at www.TheNicheAgent.com/episode15 and let me know what you think!

Posted by The Niche Agent, Your Niche Is Our Niche (The Niche Agent) over 5 years ago

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