I don’t know if it went up while I was in Australia or I just missed it this summer, but I was surprised a few weeks ago to see the historical marker at the wayside – carved, by the way, out of what was then my Grandpa (Anton) Novak’s farm – just west of the Highway 23/73 intersection about three miles east of Princeton.
(Editor’s note: Here’s an update. I learned the marker was displayed at the 2021 Green Lake County Fair before being erected.)
I am happy to see an accurate plaque commemorating the site on “Barnekow’s hill,” but I wish it would have been referred to as the Princeton radar station since it was located in Princeton Township and closer to Princeton than Green Lake.
Green Lake stole Princeton’s thunder when all but one of the servicemen assigned to the station, which operated from 1958-1960, were housed in Green Lake.
The Green Lake newspaper also provided much better news coverage of the station than the Princeton newspaper of that era.
During the Cold War of the 1950s, the Air Force built a nationwide network of more than 200 radar stations as part of a missile defense system. But the Soviet Union’s successful launch of the Sputnik satellite launch in 1957 set a new standard in defense technology. U.S. military leaders questioned whether, among other weaknesses, our Nike missile system’s radar was sophisticated enough to discriminate between intercontinental ballistic missiles and decoy devices.
The radar defense network was gradually decommissioned and consolidated. (I remember running historical articles about the Nike missile silo in Waukesha when I was editor there many years ago.)
I have not tried to find the Princeton station’s site, but Mike Abernethy, who contributed to an online message board about the Chicago-Milwaukee radar ring, said he found it in 2005.
“Most thought it was near the quarry on the intersection of highways 23 & 73,” he wrote (http://ed-thelen.org/radar-ring-chi-mil.html). “I drove out there – nothing obvious but thought where would I put a radar site? After wandering around the hilltops for an hour, I found it. It was the same as two other concrete radar bases I have seen ( approx 12x12x12), but this one was pulled out of the ground and lying on its side.”
Here are the newspaper clips about the Princeton radar station that I’ve collected so far during research for the unwritten “Cold War” chapter in Vol. II of my history of Princeton:
Princeton Times-Republic, January 9, 1958 – “New radar equipment acquired by the Nike guided missile units safeguarding the metropolitan areas of Chicago and Milwaukee will provide them with an earlier warning capability than has been previously available. This equipment presently at Nike sites is being relocated at vantage points distant from the missile firing batteries, the Fifth U.S. Army Headquarters announced today. One of the radar sites selected is the Princeton area. A survey team of Army air defense and engineer experts shortly will be in the Princeton area for selection of a site best serving the radar requirements and land-leasing negotiations. Only a small tract of land, from four to five acres, will be obtained on a lease basis, the Army said. The installation will be manned by a unit of approximately 20 soldiers. These soldiers will live in and become a part of the community insofar as possible. Housing for married personnel will be leased locally if available. Work will begin as quickly as the site is obtained, with completion of the installation scheduled in early spring, the Army said.”
Princeton Times-Republic, January 16, 1958 – “Princeton is one of three radar sites in Wisconsin chosen by the Army to strengthen anti-aircraft defenses of the Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary-Detroit bomb target areas. Other Wisconsin sites are near Tisch Mills, about 15 miles from Manitowoc, and near Argyle, 35 miles southwest of Madison. Primary mission of the new surveillance radar equipment will be to alert the Nike rocket batteries which protect the target cities.”
Princeton Times-Republic, March 6, 1958 – “Construction has started on the new Niki radar site outside Princeton. The new base is going up on the west side of Highway 73 just south of the junction of Highways 73 and 23. Two buildings serving as barracks are being constructed of concrete and steel by a Chicago firm. Several miscellaneous small structures will be included in the installation. K.C. Seil, Army engineer and a native of Colfax, is supervising the construction program and it is reported he expects the buildings to be ready for occupancy about April 1 with the roads and protective fencing to be completed about June 1. Seil said carpenters, painters, and other workmen needed on the project would be employed from this area if they are available.”
Green Lake County Reporter, March 13, 1958 – “Arrangements have been made between an Army mediator and Floyd Kallas that the latter’s residence in Green Lake will be occupied by personnel of the U.S. Corps of Engineers about April 1st. Army representatives expected that between 16 and 21 school-trained technicians will live in the home located on Lake Street. At least two commissioned officers will reside there so that the men will be under official supervision. A five-year lease has been prepared which is waiting for Army confirmation. The army technicians will man the new Nike site for the radar unit of the Chicago-Milwaukee defense area being built 4 miles west of Green Lake on Highway 73.”
Green Lake County Reporter, March 20, 1958 – “After an official welcome by the Village Board and the verbal consent of residents in the immediate area, the Army signed a five-year lease with Floyd Kallas, Eighteen Army radar technicians will move into the residence on Lake Street between now and April 1st. An informal meeting was called for Saturday by the Village Board to hear the feelings of the community for making the Kallas home into a dormitory for the Army personnel who will operate the radar site which is nearing completion 5 miles west of Green Lake on Highway 73. The question raised whether or not such use of the home complied with the residential section of the zoning ordinance, Village President Jack Rowley said that Attorney Charles Wildermuth advised that the Army was no different than the individual and he could not see anything in violation of the ordinance. … Capt. Sellers and Warrant Officer Fakers held a private meeting with the property owners in the close vicinity of the Kallas home after the session. They told the residents that, in spite of the welcome by the board, the Army could not go ahead and take the lease unless each immediate homeowner gave his approval. Capt. Sellers explained to the group that the radar site would be manned around the clock seven days a week. Two men would be in the control room at all times with a seven-man crew. He stated that this was one of 10 installations being erected in the Chicago-Milwaukee- defense area, 3 in Wisconsin, 3 in Illinois, 3 in Indiana, and 2 in Michigan. Maintenance crews for the Wisconsin sites will be stationed with the Green Lake-Princeton unit. As limited appropriation had been allotted for the project, it was necessary to tent housing rather than building a dormitory on this site at the cost of $106,000. Warrant officer Woods will live in the Kallas home with 17 men who will range in age from 20 to 30. The home will be used strictly for living quarters, according to Capt. Sellers. Two army cooks will prepare the meals. A station wagon will be used to transport the soldiers to and from the radar unit on Highway 73. The captain estimated that $60,000 would be expended in the community annually for food, living expenses, recreation and incidentals. A master sergeant and sergeant first class will move to the area with their families, one living in Green Lake in the home of Whitey Wesner and the other in the Ostrander dwelling in Princeton. Warrant Officer Eakers, who came to Green Lake to complete the real estate transactions, told the gathering that the radar unit was a technical installation with the personnel being highly trained. They would have at least a high school education with additional studying in electronics and mathematics. He stated that the Kallas home, lawn and premises will be well kept. Both officers praised the overall facilities available in Green Lake and were please to be a part of the community. The intermediate range of the radar Nike system will be operational by April 1 in order to be in with the anti-aircraft defense.”
Oshkosh Northwestern, March 20, 1958 – “The process of constructing a radar station for the army on the hill just south of the intersection of Highways 73 and 23 near here has been a race with cold weather and hard ground against a March 30 deadline. Superintendent Fred Sparling of the Keno Construction Company, of Highland Park, Ill., and E.C. Sell, of the Chicago District Corps of Army Engineers have explained that the station is one of 10 completely encircling the Chicago area. The work began Feb. 19, Sell said, with the complete layout to include a facility and generator building for stand-by power, an operational and office building, and stands for the radar antennae. The land for the radar station is leased from a farmer, Robert Lindow, who lives nearby. Solid rock comes to within 18 inches of the surface of the windy hill, and four feet of frost was present when the work was begun. Power and telephone lines, a road, and a surrounding security fence will round out the installation. Sparling mentions the 23-degree-below-zero temperature the day the work was begun, with his crew of 19 men putting in overtime to rush the operation of surveying, grading, excavating for building foundations and back-filing. He stated that the barrack type office and crew headquarters building was a standard army metal prefab building, which is presently being finished in the interior. Radar equipment is expected to arrive on the site the first of next month and will be installed by army radar experts. The Keno Company work will be finished when the road grading and graveling is completed. All supplies have been flown in by helicopter. A final inspection by government officials is slated sometime next week. Army officials held inspections of the site Tuesday and Thursday of last week, Sparling said. A crew of about 14 or 15 army men is slated to be ‘on location’ at the new radar station, Sell explained. These crew members will have housing provided in the village of Green Lake.”
Green Lake County Reporter, April 3, 1958 – “Friday night, March 28, the Army moved in and started operation at the new radar installation four miles west of Green Lake. The site, situated on the crest of the hill on Highway 73, ¼ mile south from the intersection with 23, is rapidly being completed. Radar antenna which arrived in sections by truck has been mounted on the concrete base. The screen expands 44 feet in width and is 11 feet high. The antenna makes six revolutions a minute. Radiation reflection will pick up any aircraft. The auxiliary building, smaller of the two edifices erected by the Army, contains a generator and convertor. Radar unit is operated on commercial power with the convertor. In case of failure on the Wisconsin Power and Light lines, the generator can be used for the electrical supply. The main building is divided into crew, viewer, and control rooms. The radar set, modulator, power supply, I.F.F., receiver and transmitter located in the control room were flown in by helicopter, as well as other equipment for the building. In the viewer room, the ‘planned position indicator’ will spot any aircraft whether Piper Cub or a large air liner. Radar equipment is in operation during “standby and surveillance” periods. The entire installation is surrounded by security fence. The small building at the gale entrance is maintained by the power company for meter readings. The men who will maintain the radar operation moved into the Floyd Kallas home in Green Lake on Tuesday. The section, who has been together for the past four months in Menomonee Falls, Wis., is composed of a chief radar operator, radar maintenance, three senior radar maintenance, three radar operators, two generator operator maintenance, two cooks and a cook’s helper. Warrant officer Woods will also reside at the house. Section Leader Hudson and his family will occupy a home on the Whitey Wesner premises. Signal maintenance Lenz and his family will live in the Ostrander house in Princeton.”
Green Lake County Reporter, July 31, 1958 – “On Tuesday, the Signal Corps unit of the Army moved into the former Stoddard Hardware store on Mill Street. Extensive remodeling and painting was done prior to renting the space to the Army. Signal Corps in Green Lake who repair radar sets for all stations in Wisconsin previously were located at the new Nike site on Highway 73 west of Green Lake. 24-hour watch will be maintained at the Stoddard building.”
Princeton Times-Republic, May 7, 1959 – “Green Lake County Sheriff officials were alerted to a possible severe storm Monday afternoon at 12:50 p.m. by Sergeant Duane Pickell, in charge of the Princeton Radar Base. Radar picked up the storm moving this way from the west, watching it closely for some 20 to 30 minutes before reporting its size and course to the Sheriff. Sheriff Frank Lieske and Capt. Lloyd Schoephoester of the County Highway Police wen to the radar base and kept officials informed of the storm’s progress by radio. When it looked like the storm would be hitting this area, schools were notified by the sheriff’s department and about 30 minutes later Berlin, Princeton and Markesan schools were cleared of students. In Green Lake, students took cover in the basement and tunnel area below the school building. The senior class play in progress at the Community Hall was stopped when it was feared that the storm would be passing over this community. … It was three years ago that Berlin was hit with a destructive tornado, and first reports stated that this city again lay in the path of the giant storm cloud, largest ever picked up by the Princeton Radar Station. The cloud first measured 50 feet wide and around 100 feet long and was heading east but high in the sky. Later the cloud gained mass measuring some 60 feet across. … About two hours later the officials watched the storm pass to the north of this area and with a sigh of relief they went back to a normal day’s work.”
Princeton Times-Republic, May 14, 1959 – “… It surprises me to read from a publication that is supposed to be a public servant for its community, the words that these types of storm alerts should come from a weather center and not from the Princeton Radar Base. Now I happen to know that when this storm was spotted the same Princeton radar base asked for information on it from the state weather central and were told that they had no charting on such a storm. Now you tell me, who were better informed people, those of three years ago who were killed or injured in the tornado or the people of last Monday who were prepared for a storm that never came? … To the radar base just to the east of us, we feel a cooler mind knowing that you can give us the type of protection we received last Monday. Thank you from myself, my family, and from 99 and 44/100 per cent of the residents of Green Lake County that really do care about human life.” – William Schweinler, editor, responding to editorial comments in two area weekly newspapers describing the warnings broadcast over WCWC in Ripon as “scare tactics.”
Green Lake County Reporter, November 5, 1959 – “The Fifth U.S. Army Headquarters has announced the signing of a lease with Mr. and Mrs. Burt Livingston for occupancy of their lodge known as Northern Lights Lodge. Sgt. Dwaine Pickell, officer in charge of the maintenance crews of the Green Lake-Princeton radar site, received the signed lease this week and states the move into the new quarters will be made January 1, 1960. The single men of the radar unit have been occupying the Floyd Kallas home since April 1, 1958. According to Sgt. Pickell, there will be 15 men housed in the two buildings. The sergeants will be quartered in the small cottage and the enlisted men in the big lodge. He have the reason for the move as being the factor of more room at Northern Lights Lodge both for housing and for entertainment of visiting Army officials. No structural changes are contemplated, he reports. All military furnishings will be moved over from the Kallas home. The cooking utensils, refrigerators, stoves, etc. in the two kitchens belong to the Livingstons, will be used by the Army, as the facilities are adequate for feeding large numbers. The Nike base has been in operation since March 1958.”
Green Lake Reporter, January 7, 1960 – “The men of the radar unit moved Monday from their quarters in the Kallas house to the Northern Lights Lodge which the Army has leased for its unmarried personnel stationed here.”
Green Lake County Reporter, June 23, 1960 – “The third and final open house will be held at the radar site this Sunday, June 26th, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. the site is ½ mile off Highway 23 on Highway 73 at the intersection of the two highways between Princeton and Green Lake.”
Green Lake County Reporter, July 28, 1960 – “The 260th Signal Detachment that has been stationed in Green Lake since April 1958 has moved to Milwaukee. Eight enlisted men and their Army Officer, Mr. Wood, have been assigned to the 61st AAA group and will serve the Green Lake radar site, the one at Milwaukee and those in Milwaukee. The men used the former Stoddard Hardware Store for their tools, testing equipment, and spare parts. Sgt. Pickell said, ‘the men were reassigned due to a better location or their work.’ He emphasized that this move by the Signal Detachment ‘had no effect on the operation of the radar site on Highway 73.”
Green Lake County Reporter, September 8, 1960 – “Modernizing the Chicago-Gary Army Air Defense Forces to keep pace with more effective operation will bring about the deactivation of the Green Lake Radar Site located at Green Lake within the next few months. This ground radar which is part of the 45th Artillery Brigade Army Air Defense system, will be relocated to further enhance air defense, Brigadier General Frederick W. Ellery stated in a letter to Village President Dan Hempel. ‘During this space era, continuing efforts are being made to improve the air defense of our nation. As extensive recent study has shown it has become necessary to adjust our radar sitings to maintain this continuous program of improvement. …’ This radar installation which is part of the 45th Artillery Brigade Army Air Defense system has started movement. The signal detachment consisting of eight men moved out the end of July. Ten men in charge of the radar unit, three for kitchen help and SFC Dwaine D. Pickell are presently assigned to Green Lake. The army took a five-year lease on Northern Lights when they moved in January from the Kallas house. When the complete move takes place, the entire radar site on Highway 73 will be disassembled and removed. SFC Pickell said the headquarters at Arlington Heights, Ill., had a new installation which covers the same area of 10 radar units, including the one at Green Lake.”
Princeton Times-Republic, September 15, 1960 – “The radar station at the junction of Highways 23 and 73 between Green Lake and Princeton will be closing down within a few months, according to Sgt. Duane Pickell, commanding officer of the unit since it was established in April 1958.”
If you have any information or memories of the radar station, please let me know.
Thank you for caring and reading about local history.