HOULTON, Maine — Rugby Radio Station, a radio transmission site in the United Kingdom that once had ties to this Aroostook County community as part of a transoceanic communications network in the 1930s, is being re-imagined as a new city in England that will be aptly named: Houlton.
Rugby Radio Station was a radio transmission facility near the town of Rugby, Warwickshire in England. From 1927 to 1957, Houlton served as a relay station for long-wave transoceanic transmissions between New York and London.
Located on the County Road, the Houlton site was decommissioned on Oct. 1, 1957. That property is home to Roger and Carol Hand.
James Scott, who is the director of planning and communication for Urban and Civic, a property development and investment company based in London, was in Houlton on April 29 to meet with town officials and local historians to get a better feel for the American community that will bear the namesake of the new development.
“We own a number of large-scale strategic sites in the U.K. that are being redeveloped for housing,” Scott said.
The Rugby site, which will be renamed Houlton, is 1,100 acres and over the next 20 years it will be developed into 6,000 homes, three primary schools, one secondary school and 1 million square feet of commercial floor space.
“The radio station [in England] was in operation from 1926 until 2005,” Scott said. “The site is really interesting in that it is mainly open fields, with some very large buildings and 12 800-foot masts. It was a very emotive site for a lot of people, but it was not very well developed.”
The masts have all been torn down, but some of the buildings were preserved for historical purposes.
Scott said new communities are being built all over the country in the United Kingdom, and much like it is here in the United States, people like to have a bit of history they can relate to in their hometown.
“When you have a new community, they don’t have a shared common history,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to look back at the history of this site and the connection that it has with Houlton, Maine.”
Scott said he hopes to form a sort of “sister city” relationship with Houlton, where schoolchildren from the regional school district here would correspond with children in the new Houlton community in England.
While in Houlton, Scott met with local historian Leigh Cummings to learn more about how this community was founded. He also toured the Houlton Historical Museum and met with officials from the town and school departments.
In the early days of transoceanic transmissions, a crew of five individuals worked at the Houlton station from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to a November 1957 article in Long Lines, a company magazine produced by employees of American Telephone and Telegraph. As demand for service increased, coverage was extended from 4 a.m. to midnight.
Houlton was chosen as the relay station because the signal could not reach all the way from England to New York directly. The local site did not have massive antennae reaching upward such as the location in England. Instead, the transmission lines here were placed horizontally and stretched for many miles.
By the mid-1930s, long-wave transmissions declined because of technological improvements in short-wave radios. The Houlton site was also used in the 1940s as a ship-to-shore service.