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Reliving history at former Northeast Kingdom Air Force base

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 12:53 AM EST
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EAST HAVEN, Vt. (WCAX) - The former East Haven Radar Base closed back in 1963. Ever since, the Cold War relic has become a kind of historical time capsule as well as host to a slew of sometimes bizarre accidents and vandalism.

The base has a fascinating history, including airmen claiming to see a UFO just hours before a New Hampshire couple reported being abducted by aliens.

One airman stationed there in 1962, Howard Otty, described it as heaven on earth. He said he didn’t know the base was closing until friends were assigned to go take it apart. “I guess nothing’s really going to be here forever,” Otty said. “I just liked it. It was not as much traffic and it was exciting to be on the base as a young person, single, had a car.”

The base closed in 1963, just seven years after it opened. Michael Strait, Island Pond’s selectboard chair and local history buff, said the government spent $21 million building the base. Its closure came before construction was even done.

What was once home to 174 airmen looking for signs of Russian bombers during the Cold War, quickly became a destination for trouble as the new property owners struggled to keep people out.

“There’s a lot of vandalism. A lot of people just shoot their guns at it. They just don’t understand it’s somebody else’s property, so it’s a shame to see it’s been destroyed through the years,” Strait said.

Tragedy struck shortly after the base was sold to a couple who lived there and managed a woodworking shop. Strait said they had a difficult time keeping people off the property. At one point, a snowmobiler was decapitated after running into a chain meant to block the road.

East Burke Assistant Fire Chief James Hinman said he’s been on several calls for fires and rescues during his time with the department. The most recent was for a fire in what used to be the mess hall, one of the largest buildings on site. “There’s been no official account as to what happened but the story is there was a party there the night before. Whether they had a fire inside the mess hall or intentionally set it, no one except for who was there would know,” Hinman said.

There have been several owners since the base closed down in 1963, all of whom have had trouble keeping people off the property. The current owner, Mathew Rubin, bought it with the intention of building wind turbines, but the project was never approved. “The Public Service Board said you haven’t done the studies, so can’t meet all the criteria for Act 248 or Section 248... so, end of story,” Rubin said.

Since then, the property was put on Vermont’s Hazardous Sites List. A 2013 report said there was arsenic, lead, and chromium in the soil. When asked if he would sell the land, Rubin said the likelihood of someone purchasing the property is slim. For now, it’ll stay frozen in time.

“It’s in pretty rough shape and it’s almost, in some areas, might be dangerous,” Otty said. “It’s different, but I have some pictures to remind me what it was. It was just another part of my life.”

While the base is accessible, it is still private property. Rubin said people can walk up there, but cars shouldn’t be using the road. If you go up there, remember it’s pretty isolated, so be prepared for anything.

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