NORTH ANDOVER — It’s been mostly forgotten, but more than 40 years ago, North Andover came close to playing a major role in the Cold War.
Glen Aspeslagh, president of the Friends of North Andover Trails, has done extensive research on the town’s open spaces. He told several dozen people at the Stevens Memorial Library last night about the federal government’s plan to build a huge Sentinel radar site at the end of what’s now Sharpners Pond Road.
Back in the 1960s, many Americans feared a nuclear attack by Communist China, Aspeslagh explained. So the Department of Defense selected several sites where anti-ballistic missiles would be kept to ward off the warheads.
Boston was chosen to be among the protected places, Aspeslagh said. The Defense Department then decided to locate the anti-ballistic missiles at Camp Curtis Guild in Lynnfield and build a radar site in North Andover.
The federal bureaucrats picked a spot in Boxford State Forest, built the access road now known as Sharpners Pond Road and started excavating to build what would have been an 11-story radar installation.
“It definitely would have been the tallest thing in North Andover,” Aspeslagh said.
Then circumstances changed. President Richard Nixon, who signed nuclear arms reduction accords with the Soviet Union and reached out to China, decided that the United States did not need an extensive system of anti-ballistic missiles.
Aspeslagh showed a slide of a February 1969 newspaper clipping reporting that Defense Secretary Melvin Laird put the North Andover project on hold, essentially killing it. The federal government agreed to improve Sharpners Pond Road and turn it over to the town, Aspeslagh noted.
There was also considerable talk about transforming what was to be the radar site into a recreational park, but that never happened. Boxford State Forest, however, remains a popular place for hiking – including guided hikes offered by Friends of North Andover Trails.