This unassuming site off of the Fairfax County Parkway was once a part of a chain of Nike missiles erected around the Washington D.C. area to protect the nation’s capital from a nuclear attack during the Cold War. The missile defense system was meant to be a symbol of the United States’ powerful militaristic capabilities of the time. Though the site was later decommissioned, the remains can still be found in the wooded areas of Pope’s Head Park.
Before the 1950s, the United States’ defense against aerial attacks mainly consisted of traditional antiaircraft guns. Then in 1951, with escalating tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union, coupled with the then-ongoing Korean War, the U.S. Army advocated for “surface-to-air missile” (SAM) defense systems to be implemented immediately around the country. By 1953, soldiers were being taught to operate these new missile systems, now named Nike after the Greek goddess of victory, and later dubbed NIKE-Ajax.
Finding land to place these sites was surprisingly simple in Fairfax County, though the army was ordered to use government-owned land when viable. The army would eventually disclose information of the new nationwide Nike program to the public in 1955, and would even encourage local residents to visit the different missile sites in their area.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower became president of the United States, he advocated for a “New Look” foreign policy, which essentially sought to strengthen the nation’s defense systems as efficiently and cost-effective as possible. This led to the decision to attach nuclear warheads to anti-aircraft missiles. These new missiles were called Nike-Hercules missiles and could go faster and further than their predecessors.
Though the Fairfax Nike Missile Site would never end up housing any of these Nike-Hercules missiles, the implementation of these new missiles led to a heightening of security at all Nike sites across the country. The new security measures would see the addition of guard houses, fences, intrusion alarms, and a four-man military police squad to each missile site. With this change, the public was openly discouraged from visiting the premises.
The high costs of building and operating these missile sites eventually led to many of them being transferred from the United States Army to the National Guard, including the Fairfax Nike Missile Site in 1959. The Virginia National Guard occupied the Fairfax Nike Missile Site until its subsequent closure in 1963.
Today, the former Nike missile site is utilized by the Fairfax County Police Department to house the police association building (located just to the east of the park, off of Revercomb Ct) and the police shooting range (located south of the park at the end of Revercomb Ct). The rest of the area was repurposed into athletic fields in what is now known as Pope’s Head Park just off of the Fairfax County Parkway. The missile site was bulldozed over, and the only proof of it ever existing is a historical marker off the Fairfax County Parkway that can only be read headed north, and the sizeable debris that was left behind in the heavily-wooded areas of Pope’s Head Park, just west of the athletic fields.
Know Before You Go
This map location is pinned to reflect the site of the historic marker. We've heard from community members that the missile site ruins themselves can be difficult to reach safely, especially due to the large police presence in the immediate vicinity. In the summer, the area is also often overgrown and access to the debris is difficult. Please exercise caution if you are in this area.