New Boston Satellite Tracking Station

The main gate and security check house at the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station are shown in a photo taken on Dec. 19, 1960.

In 1956, after serving for 16 years as an aerial bombing and gunnery training site, the New Boston Bombing Range stopped being used for these purposes. This large military reservation, which included land in New Boston, Amherst, and Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, continued to be managed by the command at Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester.

Local newspapers would occasionally report on activities occurring on the now former bombing range. On May 20, 1957 the Manchester Union Leader reported that the Manchester and Keene components of the 18th Rifle Company, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, had conducted the third in a series of annual field exercises on the property.

More than 125 officers and men took part in the mock battle which pitted the Keene unit, playing the “enemy,” against the Manchester-based Marines. As the newspaper reported, “Smoke grenades and blank cartridges were used during the all-day operation to simulate battlefield conditions.” The exercise enabled the men to practice combat tactics ahead of their two-week summer training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

On June 18, 1957, 11-year old Fred Willard, 15-year-old Betty Bartlett, and 8-year-old William Harcovitz went for a morning walk around a pond near their homes on Tater Street in Mont Vernon. When they did not return for lunch, their parents began searching for them. They were soon joined by local police and firefighters, and by conservation officers from the area. After having been lost in the woods for eight hours, the children were found unharmed.

The next day the Manchester Union Leader reported that “Conservation Officer Daniel Tibbetts of Nashua estimated…that the three children had traveled eight or 10 miles through a maze of unmarked roads and woodlands in the bombing range” and that the girl had “told searchers that she and her companions had walked around Joe English mountain after they became confused and lost their direction.”

Fortunately, there were no military training operations taking place on the reservation at the time the children were wandering around. However, authorities at Grenier cautioned the public to stay off the property.

As an item in December 20, 1957 Portsmouth Herald stated, “The commander of Grenier Air Force Base has warned civilians to keep off the bombing range…There are unexploded practice rockets and bombs ‘capable of killing’ strewn around the range.”

At some point in the following months the facility began to be used by the Air Force Reserve for parachute drop training, and by the 732nd Troop Carrier Squadron stationed at Grenier for simulated heavy equipment drops from the unit’s C-119 Flying Boxcar transport planes.

By March 1959 it was known that the U.S. Air Force was planning to build a satellite tracking station on the New Boston Bombing Range land and that Davison Construction Company of Manchester would be the contractor.

The site had certain advantages, including its location in the northeastern U.S. on government-owned land. It was subject to low levels of electrical interference, so there would be minimal disruption of radio communication. Also, it would be supported by the military establishment at Grenier Air Force Base.

The official announcement of the project wouldn’t be made until June 24, 1959 when the Pentagon released a short statement to The Associated Press. It mentioned that the construction project would cost $3,000,000 and that the operation would be staffed by 350 Air Force personnel.

It also stated that “The station will help track satellites, predict orbits and receive radio information from space vehicles.” In October 1959 the 6594th Instrumentation Squadron was activated at Grenier Air Force Base, and assigned to operate the new facility.

As the construction progressed, curiosity about the tracking station grew.

In the New Hampshire Sunday News featured a story about the facility on Feb. 7, 1960 by reporter Jay Hanlon entitled, “New Boston Tracking Station Nears Completion.”

Hanlon’s detailed article was informed by a tour of the installation conducted by its commanding officer, Colonel Glenn B. Daughton.

Hanlon’s article began, “NEW BOSTON — A 2,800-acre tract of woodland long known hereabouts as the bombing range has been officially renamed the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station of the U.S. Air Force and as such soon will begin contributing to mankind’s attempts to conquer outer space.”

Next Week: The New Boston Satellite Tracking Station makes national news.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter

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