November 8, 2017

Remembering The Old Winston-Salem Radar Station

Union Cross Park is a nice park. It has a walking/jogging path, softball fields, as well as tennis courts and a basketball court. It has a picnic shelter for community get-togethers and a playground for kids.

Everyone knows that Union Cross Park was a former radar base, but few know much about the specifics of the old radar base.

Union Cross Park should have an educational element to it. It’s strange to have a park on a decommissioned military base and there’s no markers, no nothing to remind folks of the former base.

The site is on the City’s Historical Marker Program Priority List. One day it will probably have a historical marker. But why has that day taken so long to get here?

Located in the southeast corner of the county, Union Cross Park was the Winston-Salem Radar Station from the 1950s until it became Forsyth County’s first public park in 1974.

Union Cross Park is still “the radar base” to me. I have been coming there since I was a child in the early 1980s. I always found the park’s 5-story concrete tower compelling, but it wasn’t until I got older that I began to wonder what exactly was at Union Cross Park decades ago?

Recently I had the good fortune to speak to a local man who remembered the old Winston-Salem Radar Station back during the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. Mike Miller, my mom’s next door neighbor, spent some time on the base when he was a kid.

Mr. Miller also hunted and fished on the adjacent land that is now Union Cross Business Park.  He remembers when the W-S Radar Station was a lonely outpost in the middle of tobacco fields and not much else.

“What you have to remember is that what you see now is kind of a shell. There was a radar dish, it was huge. It was 3-times as wide as the building,” said Miller.

The southeastern edge of Forsyth County seems like an unlikely place for a radar base. But Mr. Miller explained that the radar station was powerful enough to detect incoming threats off of our coastline but was far enough inland to be immune to enemy attack.

Back when the base was operational, there was officer housing across the street. And there was a little store in between the base and officer housing.

The store is still there today, as is the housing. It’s a general store, with an old-time feel to it. Back when the radar base was operational, apparently it had a bar where soldiers could drink. Because as Mr. Miller said, “when you have military personnel around, bars open up.”

Next door to Union Cross Park is ARCA, a drug rehabilitation facility that has operated since 1969. ARCA still uses many of the original buildings from the Winston-Salem Radar Station.

The general public can’t venture onto ARCA’s campus, but from Union Cross Park, ARCA’s repurposed military buildings are visible. Though divided, there is an obvious continuity between the two properties.

A former serviceman who was stationed at the radar base has a website (Ninevah Junction) with some excellent photos of his time there in the 1960s. His collection of photos could be used (with permission) to educate today’s park-goers about Union Cross Park’s past.

Union Cross Park is a Cold War heritage site and deserves to be honored as such. It’s much more than just a collection of athletic fields.

 

A sign at Reynolda Village. Forsyth County could easily post a similar sign at Union Cross Park to honor the history of the old radar station.

 

 

 

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