Saturday, June 25, 2011

Vanished Rochester: Ground Observer Post GN58R

During the early Cold War era, Rochester was an outpost on the nation's civil defense early warning system. On a hill near St. Andrew's School (now Holy Family Regional School), a small building with windows on all four sides was erected for the use of the community's Ground Observer Corps volunteers. The volunteers worked in pairs around the clock, each team standing a two-hour watch to scan the sky for low-flying enemy aircraft.

The Ground Observer Corps was a U.S. Air Force initiative that began as an experimental program during the Korean War, when it was feared that gaps in American radar defenses might allow low-flying aircraft to invade U.S. air space. After the initial roll-out proved promising, the expanded program, called Operation Skywatch, was promoted nationwide.  Eventually, more than 800,000 civilian volunteers stood watches at 16,000 Ground Observer Corps posts strategically located across the country.

In Rochester, the Ground Observer Corps post designated GN58R was built in the summer of 1956.  Sarah Van Hoosen Jones and the Chamber of Commerce donated the binoculars for use of the GOC volunteer observers.  Nelda Carmichael served as chief observer.  The little building had a direct phone line to Selfridge Air Force Base to allow volunteers to report suspicious aircraft directly to military authorities.

Many ordinary Rochester citizens, my father and grandfather among them, stood their post in the tiny shack, watching and waiting to sound the alarm for the Soviet attack that never came. The GOC post in Rochester didn't last long; the entire program was dismantled by the Air Force on January 1, 1959, because advances in technology had allowed the U.S. military to close the gaps in its radar defense system electronically. The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line had been activated in 1957, as had the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Human "eyes on the sky" were no longer required, and our Ground Observer post passed into the pages of Vanished Rochester.

This image is a Rochester Clarion photo from 1956 and shows Mrs. Bruce Moore (in the doorway) and Mrs. Nelda Carmichael (inside the building).

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if the hill that the outpost was located on still exists? And is it on the current Holy Family property? I'm trying to figure out the exact location of the hill.