Austin Answered: Where are Austin’s Cold War missile sites?

Nike missiles were ready to launch from spots near Bergstrom and off Bee Cave Road.


Reader Gary Hamilton wrote us regarding our newspaper’s Austin Answered project: “I just finished the latest Harlan Coben book, ‘Don’t Let Go.’ Missile sites from the Cold War era play a central role. I Googled ‘Nike missile sites’ and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are several former sites around Austin.”

Indeed, there are.

One was located near Bergstrom Air Force Base, now Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the other off Bee Cave Road on land now used for deep storage by the University of Texas.

“In the 1960s, Austin was considered a target for the Communists,” wrote American-Statesman reporter Denise Gamino in 2001. “The bull’s-eye was Bergstrom Air Force Base, home to huge B-52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command. Twelve Nike missiles were based southeast of Bergstrom. Another dozen were nestled in the hills west of Austin off Bee Cave Road. The 40-foot Nikes kept a low profile except when the occasional drills kicked them into launch position.”

On a hill near Bee Cave and St. Stephens School roads, the Army also operated a radar station for the Nike missile site that was located on Crystal Creek Drive.

As usual, Gamino shared the human story behind the history. She talked to Rodney Patterson, who grew up next to the Bee Cave Road site and whose father’s wood-chopping operation was crippled by it, and Ella Ross, whose father’s cattle ranch was chopped up to make space for the Bergstrom site. She also interviewed Dan Mathews, who had been assigned to that Nike site as a young enlisted Army man.

Mathews suspected that some of the missiles were outfitted with nuclear warheads, a fact confirmed by historian Christopher Bright.

“The only time it ever got tense down there was during the (1962) Cuban missile crisis, ” Matthews said. “We were fully staffed and working around the clock.”

GET UP TO SPEED: Check out other Austin Answered stories arising from readers’ questions:

Why did tree-named streets switch to numbered names?

Why is the Travis/Williamson county line so crooked?

Where does money spent at Austin’s airport go?

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Who is Maufrais, and why is the name written on Austin sidewalks?

Why doesn’t Austin have more east-west highways?

Who picks up road debris after a fender-bender?

What were Stephen F. Austin’s views on slavery?

What are the oldest buildings in downtown Austin?

Why don’t gas stations get credit card chip readers?

What is price gouging and how much gas can you buy?

Why did the bathroom bill become such a big thing this year?

Where do the Congress Avenue bridge bats go at night?

Are algae blooms bad for your health?

Why isn’t panhandling illegal?

Why can’t you swim in Lady Bird Lake?

Who do EMS and a fire truck both respond when you call 911?

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• Quick answers to 11 of your questions and 8 more



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