LIMESTONE, Maine — Dave and Sue Prentiss don’t consider themselves doomsday survivalists. They also aren’t concerned about a possible zombie attack. But in the event of a worst-case scenario, the Limestone couple has the perfect spot to ride out just about any post-apocalyptic event.
Thirty years ago the couple was in the market for a home in northern Maine so Dave Prentiss could relocate his specialty auto restoration business from New Hampshire.
While house hunting in 1985, they came across an old Nike missile launch site for sale near what was then Loring Air Force Base.
Prentiss said what initially attracted him to the property on the Canadian border was the old missile assembly and testing building, which he knew would make a perfect auto restoration shop. But he said he and his wife also were intrigued by the possibility of living on an old military site.
According to Prentiss, the Nike missiles were deployed and operated by the United States Army in the late 1950s and enjoyed a very short shelf life.
When the missile sites were decommissioned and taken offline, all the missiles were removed by the military.
“These were traditional warheads, not nuclear warheads,” Prentiss said of the weapons. “If they had been nukes, I wouldn’t have touched this place on a bet.”
After the Limestone site closed in the early 1960s, it went through a series of private ownerships until the couple purchased it in 1985.
“It was really in deplorable shape,” Prentiss said.
Weeds and northern Maine scrub brush were growing everywhere, lawns were overgrown and the site’s collection of buildings were in various stages of disrepair.
Instead of work to create living space in an existing building on the site — the only one with running water and electricity was the old missile assembly shop — the Prentisses instead opted to build a new, two-bedroom home on a clearing between the shop and the former barracks.
Chain-link fence encloses the 17-acre parcel that sits in the center of Aroostook County farmland, and the only way in or out is through the gate at the end of a long driveway.
But what really gives the property that gee-whiz factor is what’s beneath the surface.
Tucked in among hundreds of vintage and antique snowmobiles awaiting restoration is a rusty bulkhead with double doors leading to a concrete stairway descending 22-feet into utter blackness. It’s like something from the opening scene to every B-grade slasher movie ever made.
“It’s as dark as the inside of your pocket down there,” Prentiss jokes, switching on a flashlight and heading down the stairs.
One of three Nike missile magazines on the property, the 15,000-square-foot subterranean structure is where weapons were prepped and stored for a possible launch and, like the other Cold War-era buildings around it, built to withstand a direct hit in a military first strike.
All that remains of the infrastructure that once lifted up to 12 Nike missiles into launch position is the deep, rectangular hole that once held a hydraulic elevator.
This time of year the elevator space is flooded with several feet of groundwater and looks a bit like a lap pool straight out of “American Horror Story,” but Prentiss pointed out the water recedes quickly every year and easily could be controlled by a sump pump.
Foot-long metal rods stick out of the floor in several spots and thick column supports are spaced around the room, so walking around the silo without a source of light can be dangerous, Prentiss said.
Most of the original equipment is long gone, removed by the military, though some reminders remain, including electrical panels, gear boxes, decals, ventilation controls and a rusty ladder leading up and out the emergency hatch in the personnel safety room.
Definitely a “fixer-upper,” the underground area does have potential, according to Prentiss, for everything from living space to hydroponic gardening.
Possibilities he hopes will capture the imaginations of anyone thinking about buying the property, which is currently listed by 20th Century Castles, LLC, out of Eskridge, Kansas.
“The idea you can pick one of these [missile] sites up is great,” said Edward Peden, who with his wife Diana Ricke-Peden, owns 20th Century Castles. “These are rather valuable properties with historic significance [because] there were never any more built.”
Peden estimates there are around 150 of the old Nike sites scattered around the country and, unlike newer decommissioned Minuteman sites, are available for private purchase.
“The treaty agreement with the former Soviet Union says when the Minutemen sites came offline, they had to be destroyed,” he said. “But the old Nike sites were left intact.”
Peden said he and his wife — who themselves live in a former Atlas E missile site — have sold or resold about 60 missile sites over the last two decades for anywhere from $199,000 to $4 million, depending on location and condition.
“Some of the people who buy these do talk about zombies and others are survivalists,” Peden said. “With what is currently going on in North Korea and the fear that the Cold War may be heating up, there are people who want to have options of living in a nuclear-proof structure. Some of these sites are the strongest structures ever built on the planet.”
In true northern Maine fashion, Prentiss has repurposed those structures into useful, non-military and non-zombie space. The old generator building is a firewood storage shed, where the large shuttered vents that once cooled massive motors now provide on-demand natural air circulation to dry the wood. A barracks that housed up to 100 military personnel is now a three-bedroom apartment, and a tiny, standalone office building is perhaps the best boyhood clubhouse ever for 12-year-old grandson Evan Beaulieu.
“He can even keep a padlock with his own key on the door,” Sue Prentiss said. “He does that to keep his little sister out.”
While never under any direct attack from a foreign power, the site was threatened by forces within this country.
“In the late 1980s this guy from the Army Corps of Engineers showed up and told us they were going to destroy and close up the missile silos,” Prentiss said. “I won’t say we had a heated conversation, but it was a pretty specific conversation.”
He said the military officials were understanding and, in the end, two of the three silos were left untouched. The third was filled in and closed off with debris cleared from the site decades ago.
Another time Prentiss said he and a friend were working in his shop when “a black sedan drove up and this guy gets out to ask us for our map coordinates.” This was in the days before satellite global positioning was in wide use, he said and the visitor finally said he was there to inspect military sites listed by the former Soviet Union.
“I guess we were part of the big chess game going on between our country and Russia,” Prentiss said.
“This place was running at the height of the Cold War,” Sue Prentiss said. “We don’t even have any photographs of it from that time. Everything was top secret back then.”
Today, the couple welcomes visitors to the missile site. Dave Prentiss said he loves it when former military personnel once stationed there drop by.
“That’s how we’ve learned so much about the history of this place,” he said. “When you you think about the people who kept it running and the strategic importance it had, this is really a special and unique property.”
Not to mention fairly zombie-proof.