New Jersey, an unlikely host to a nuclear weapons site, harbored one of the most clandestine locations in the United States for almost two decades: Picatinny Arsenal. Initially a military research and development center, it evolved into a covert hub for storing and assembling bombs, warheads, and missiles during the Cold War. Today, it stands deserted, its tunnels echoing a past of atomic intrigue.
The Origins of Picatinny Arsenal
Established in 1880 as a powder depot for the U.S. Army, Picatinny Arsenal expanded its domain over time, encompassing military technologies like explosives, rockets, and electronics. In 1951, under Project 76’s guise, it assumed a covert role as a nuclear weapons facility, orchestrated by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP).
The Structure and Function of the Facility
Picatinny Arsenal comprised two distinct zones: the secretive “Q” area, reserved for storing, assembling, and inspecting nuclear weapons, and the administrative “A” area, housing offices, laboratories, and warehouses. These zones, demarcated by both physical barriers and secrecy, epitomized the clandestine nature of the facility.
Handling various nuclear weapons—from bombs to warheads—Picatinny Arsenal undertook maintenance, inspection, and logistical tasks. Under the vigilant supervision of the AEC and AFSWP, the facility operated with utmost secrecy and security protocols.
The Life and Legacy of the Facility
Employing hundreds, mainly from Dover and Rockaway, Picatinny Arsenal demanded stringent security clearances and secrecy oaths. Workers navigated a paradoxical existence, blending mundane routines with the covert nature of their work. Active until 1969, the facility’s decommissioning marked the end of its covert era. Declassified in the 1990s, it remains a deserted relic, a testament to the Cold War’s ominous shadow.
Picatinny Arsenal’s covert existence embodies New Jersey’s concealed history. Integral to the U.S. nuclear weapons program, it operated in secrecy, with workers bound by silence and security. Despite its abandonment in 1969, it persists as a silent testament to an era defined by atomic tension.