Tag Archives: Nike missile site

Do Know Much About History

Sure, STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — gets lots of education headlines.

But history is alive and well in Westport schools too.

Two Staples High students recently finished 8th in the nation.

Meanwhile, 4 Bedford Middle Schoolers landed in the national top 4.

Stapleites Shea Curran and Kate Enquist were students this past year in Drew Coyne’s sophomore US History Honors course. He asked his students to find a National History Day topic on the theme of conflict and compromise.

Initially, Shea admits, “Kate and I were not really looking forward to NHD. We imagined it was filled with history nerds and crazy parents.”

But as they searched for ideas, they found an article on Westport’s Nike missile sites on (ta da!) “06880.” They got hooked — and realized history can be interesting, exciting (and cool).

Nike missiles on display.

They spent months researching the topic, using old newspapers and other material — some of it previously classified. They also interviewed people who were there.

The process was not easy, Kate says. But it was rewarding.

Shea and Kate were amazed to learn that missiles were once stored on the current site of Bedford Middle School. They were stunned to discover how close the US came to nuclear war.

The project “opened our eyes to today’s society,” Shea says. “We realize the importance of civilians being able to voice their concerns, suggestions or opinions.”

During the Cold War, she notes, “if civilians did not speak up, the results of the Nike missile sites would be much different.”

Shea Curran and Kate Enquist

The entire National History Day experience has sparked Kate’s interest in government and history. She’ll volunteer in those areas this summer, and will take AP Government in the fall.

(To view Shea and Kate’s project online, click here.)

At the junior level, Bedford’s Jason Chiu-Skow, Jordan Chiu-Skow, Johann Kobelitsch and Lyah Muktavaram worked since October — during their lunches — with teacher Caroline Davis. They also spent hours together after school, and on weekend.

Their topic was “How the Treaty of Versailles Ended the Great War.” They chose it because they realized that compromise is not always fair.

The Bedford Middle School National History Day team, at the national competition.

As part of their project, the Bedford students learned how to do research, present a convincing argument, answer judges’ questions, and work as a team.

They finished 3rd in Fairfield County, then first in Connecticut, before earning 4th place at the national competition (which also included Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Singapore, South Korea and South Asia).

The National History Day winners will be honored — and their exhibits shown — at a reception on July 14 in Connecticut’s Old Sate House.

There certainly is a lot of history there.

Remembering Bruno Arcudi

Former 1st selectman Joe may be the most well-known Arcudi.

But his 6 siblings were also quite accomplished. In the mid-20th century, they were the pride of Saugatuck.

Bruno Arcudi — who died on March 17 in Buffalo, at 93 — has a particularly intriguing story.

The son of Italian immigrants Carmelo and Mary Arcudi, he graduated from Staples High School in 1941,  then from Yale University in 1944 in an accelerated program. He immediately entered the Army Air Force, and served as a navigator during World War II.

Bruno Arcudi

He returned to Yale for a Ph.D. He taught at Yale, Rutgers and the University of California-Berkeley before serving his country again, with the United States Information Agency in Brazil and Italy.

Arcudi completed his teaching career as head of the Italian department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

But it was during his stint as chairman of Westport’s Board of Education — a role he assumed while earning his doctorate at Yale — that he made his most enduring mark on his home town.

In 1954, Westport desperately needed a new high school. The Staples building on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) was bursting at its postwar baby boom seams.

Arcudi and superintendent of schools Gerhardt Rast decided that a minimum of 25 acres was needed for a new site. The board decided to buy at least 30.

The high school on Riverside Avenue (shown here from a yearbook, with the alma mater) was very crowded when Bruno Arcudi chaired the Board of Education.

Four sites were considered. One was Blue Ribbon Farm, a 53-acre tract on Cross Highway.

Another was George Gyurkovics’ 23 acres on West Parish Road, near the state police barracks (the current site of Walgreens).

The 3rd site was the Masiello family’s 35 acres on Cross Highway. But it was low-lying, vulnerable to flooding, and the least attractive of the 4 choices.

The 4th was a 67-acre parcel on North Avenue between Cross Highway and Long Lots Road, owned by George May. The hilly land seemed perfect — except for one thing.

Army engineers had just identified the area as a launching station for Nike guided missiles. The Army was building a defensive ring around Bridgeport — home to many key manufacturing plants. The high ground and sub-surface rock made the May property the perfect location for a Nike site.

A typical Nike site — much like the North Avenue one. Missiles were buried underground.

Arcudi and the Board of Ed hoped that a large expanse of trees could separate the Nike site from the school. RTM moderator Herb Baldwin appointed Ralph Sheffer chairman of a 5-man committee to determine if the May property could be shared with a new high school “without impairing the national defense.”

The Army gave assurances that the missiles would never be fired — except, of course, in response to an actual enemy attack — and that all fuel and explosives would be stored underground, with rigid safety precautions.

A safety expert from the US Rubber Company added, “Explosive and gasoline being trucked along the Post Road every day constitute more danger to Bedford Junior High School [now Kings Highway Elementary] and the Green’s Farms Elementary School than the Nike would to the high school.”‘

The RTM was left to decide whether joint tenancy between the Army and Staples High School would work.

They agreed it could. After a number of delays — involving design work, budget and construction — the new Staples High School opened on September 4, 1958. Just north of it, the Army occupied its new Nike missile site. Today, we know that property as Bedford Middle School.

But none of it would have happened without Bruno Arcudi.

(Bruno Arcudi is survived by 3 sons, Charles, Anthony and John; 2 grandsons, Joseph and Zachary; and 5 siblings, Rose DiMartino, Anna Malootian, Elvira Ebling, Angela McKelvey and Joe Arcudi. He was predeceased by his brother John, and ex-wife Lynn. A memorial mass is set for Saturday, May 6, at noon at Assumption Church.)

The “new” Staples, circa 1959. The auditorium (center left) and gym (large building in the rear, near the track) are the only original structures remaining today.

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #67

Last week’s photo challenge took us to the highest point in Westport.

And therein lies the story.

Peter Tulupman’s image showed an abandoned building next to the Rolnick Observatory, behind the Westport Weston Health District on Bayberry Lane.

Those buildings were originally part of the Nike missile launch site. The reason they were there — to protect Bridgeport’s electronics manufacturing industry from Russian attacks — was that the launch site (and the missiles themselves, on the North Avenue land that’s now Bedford Middle School) had to be at the highest elevation possible. Bayberry Lane fit the bill.

Edward Bloch, Dan Lasley, John Sexton, Susan Huppi, Sharon Paulsen and John Brawley all knew the photo was taken at the former Nike missile site. To see it, click here.

This week’s photo challenge comes with a back story — but I don’t know it. If you have any idea why the bridge in the background was built — or when, by whom, whatever — please add those details when you comment. Inquiring minds want to know!

Oh My 06880 - April 10, 2016