Bunker, Sweet Bunker

An old Nike missile base in northern Maine

An old Nike missile base in northern Maine could withstand the end times. Read on if you want to live.

[A]mid the rolling farmland outside tiny Limestone, a stone’s throw from Canada, it’d be easy to miss the cellar doors. They poke out from a huge slab of pavement, nearly the size of two football fields, covered in salvaged snowmobiles and rusted-out cars.

“It’s quite dark down there,” Dave Prentiss says, peering down, flashlight in hand. “But I did open an escape hatch to let in some light.”

Inside the bulkhead, the air temperature abruptly drops 20 degrees. The steps angle steeply downward. The sensation is like diving to the bottom of a pool with your eyes shut. Detritus underfoot sends gravelly echoes up and down the stairwell.

Even flashlights don’t penetrate very far. The air smells damp. In a far corner, a weak glow from the opened escape hatch helps bring the subterranean space into focus, revealing a cavernous, mostly featureless room — what a crypt rendered in a brutalist architectural mode might look like — with stark concrete walls, ceiling, and floor, a long rectangular pit running the middle of the room, and a general aura of gloom.

“It’s an awesome place,” Prentiss says, “a piece of Cold War history.” In the late ’50s and early ’60s, before the Army decommissioned it, the bunker housed anti-aircraft Nike missiles. Prentiss and his wife, Sue, bought the former base surrounding it back in the ’80s because all the space — 18 acres, complete with two other bunkers, an old barracks, and a missile-assembly building — would give Prentiss plenty of room for his auto restoration work.

But now he wants to retire and downsize. He and Sue listed the property, including a two-bedroom house they built, for $295,000. In Limestone, however, comparable homes (albeit with smaller lots) might sell for $70,000, and the extra, um, quirks probably deter rather than encourage most potential buyers. So Prentiss has identified a niche audience he hopes will pay top dollar for those very features: doomsday preppers.

A little research pointed him to Ed Peden, who specializes in selling properties just like this one. North Korea. Terrorism. Global financial collapse. Tornados. All good reasons, Peden says, to live underground. And since Nike bunkers boast 5-foot-thick ceilings designed to withstand a Soviet attack, they’re pretty good places to ride out the apocalypse. The Army stripped the Prentisses’ site bare after closing the base, but Prentiss says a new owner could get the ventilation, sump pump, and electrical hookups running again. Some of Peden’s past buyers have retrofitted silos in worse shape into extravagant mansions.

For his part, Prentiss is circumspect about survivalists. “Maybe they have the smartest thing going,” he says, “or maybe they’re crazy.” He just wants them to buy his house.

“If there were a nuclear catastrophe,” he adds, “I’d like to have the missile land right on me and be done with it.”

As Prentiss reemerges through the cellar door, he takes in the fresh breeze, the green of the springtime fields, and the undulation of the distant hills. It’s a beautiful day.

“Back to reality,” he says. — Will Grunewald

Image by Paul Mirto

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