Thursday, September 21, 2023

Landmark Lost: Camp Patrick Henry and Nike Missile Control Site N-85

DENBIGH — From Jefferson Avenue, it is just an unassuming patch of trees that sits between Mary Immaculate Hospital and the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Beneath the cover of green lies a forgotten yet important piece of our local history.

Venturing off the path in this place is not an option and also definitely not for the faint of heart. After trekking through wooded brush, vines, swamp, and dodging any number of wild animals and insects, there stands the remains of what was Camp Patrick Henry.

Camp Patrick Henry

The short-lived, yet vibrant, military post, Camp Patrick Henry, was founded in 1942. Established as a staging point for those preparing to leave for the European and African theaters of World War II, it was so much more than just a layover for anxious soldiers getting ready to leave for uncertain fates.

It was a place where a community blossomed, with a movie theater, post office, base exchange, commissary, mess halls, water, sewage, and even a rail line that let the soldiers stationed here to travel off post for some much needed respite. At any given time, approximately 3,000 soldiers could call the post their temporary home.

Beyond the barracks and rail line, Camp Patrick Henry served a greater purpose as a prisoner of war camp. Germans and Italians were brought to Newport News from the other side of the Atlantic to serve out their time working in the post’s laundry, mess halls, salvage and any other menial task that could be put upon them. Historical documents have shown that Camp Patrick Henry had a prisoner of war capacity of 600.

After victory was declared and the soldiers returned home, Camp Patrick Henry’s use expired. It was closed and some of the land sold. However, the U.S. Army had another idea for the land that it still retained.

Nike Missile Control Site N-85

During the Cold War, the United States government founded 300 Nike missile sites across the country. Among those, eight were in Hampton Roads.

In 1955, the land that once held Camp Patrick Henry that was still in the possession of the Army was converted into Nike Missile Control Site N-85.

The site initially housed the Ajax Missile and then, in 1958, the Hercules missile. Additionally, single story military housing around the base was used to house overflow from nearby Fort Eustis.

In 1971, Nike Missile Control Site N-85 was decommissioned and the hulk of what was there remained. While the housing continued to be use for a couple of decades more, it, too, was closed and torn down; the land sold and the memory of both of the bases that were housed on these grounds all but forgotten.

A Landmark Lost

Trudging into the grounds of what was Camp Patrick Henry and Nike Missile Site N-85 is an otherworldly experience. Refuse and debris of appliances and household fixtures (such as toilets) are scattered, the roadways that soldiers once drilled on overgrown, fire hydrants buried in the shifting southeast Virginia mud, and hardly a ghost of the base remains.

Perhaps the most alarming site of all is what is left of Nike Missile Control Site N-85. In a sight that looks something out of a science fiction film, these gigantic orange and white towers reach up towards the sky, unable to peak above the tall pines that surround them.

This is a place that contains many echoes of the past and a danger to those who trespass it today. With electrical wires, broken buildings, and pitfalls in every direction, this is a place better studied from a distance than to traverse. In fact, I would recommend not going at all due to it being private property and a dangerous place to be.


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