An Ajax missile raised from its Moon Township bunker circa 1958.
-ROBINSON TOWNSHIP HISTORICAL SOCIETY-
By Janet Gonter
The Cold War is just a distant memory for some of us, but in the 1950s and 60s, it was a very real, very frightening reality. The tensions between the United States and Russia were almost palpable.
Pittsburgh was a likely target for attack because it was a crucial industrial center. The steel industry was in full swing and critical to the defense of the U.S. In 1952, four 90 mm anti-aircraft guns were installed at a small Army base located at the end of Planet Way in Robinson.
These guns had a range of 11 miles and were designed to take down any approaching enemy aircraft. But by 1958, they were deemed obsolete and replaced by the more modern Ajax and Hercules anti-aircraft missiles that had a much greater range and firepower.
To protect the Pittsburgh area, the government introduced the Nike Project, consisting of 12 air-defense sites in a large ring around the city. Each site consisted of a radar installation known as a Command Center and, a mile or so away, the missiles. They were separated for their own protection. One of the 509th AAA Missile Battalion radar stations was located on Leona Lane in Robinson. It was designated as 71-C (combat) and paired with the Nike missiles 71-L (launch) located less than a mile away on a hilltop in Moon Township. The missiles, clearly visible from the Command Center when raised from the bunkers, were routinely inspected, and practice drills were continuous.
The Nike Project, though short-lived, was serious business. At the Leona Lane site, approximately 100 men rotated duties 24/7, 365 days a year.
In the late 1960s, however, the Nike Project slowly began closing its locations as newer, more advanced weapons were developed. Today, the building that was once the men’s mess and recreation hall is now home to the Robinson Township AARP. You can still see a few of the hastily constructed houses that served as their living quarters along Forest Grove Road. The rusting skeleton of the “golf ball” radar tower still stands as a solemn reminder of those troubling times. In 1974, the Robinson Township installation was the last Pittsburgh Nike Project to close.
Fortunately for all of us, not a single missile was ever launched.