End of an Era: NSGA Winter Harbor to Close Its Doors


Story Number: NNS020321-08Release Date: 3/21/2002 1:59:00 PM
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By Journalist 1st Class Sarah Urban, Naval Security Group Activity Winter Harbor Public Affairs

WINTER HARBOR, Maine (NNS) -- Naval Security Group Activity Winter Harbor is scheduled to close its doors after 67 years of dedicated service and devotion to the surrounding communities, the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy.

Naval Security Group Activity Winter Harbor began as the Otter Cliffs Radio Station, located on Mt. Desert Island, about five miles west across Frenchman Bay from its current location.

The Otter Cliffs Radio Station was commissioned on Aug. 28, 1917, under the command of then-Ensign Alessandro Fabbri. Fabbri, in patriotic fervor after the declaration of war against Germany, cleared the land, and built and equipped the station. He then offered it to the government as a Navy radio station to support the war effort, in exchange for a commission in the Naval Reserve and assignment as officer in charge.

Fabbri sought to make Otter Cliffs the best radio station on the East Coast. Eventually, his efforts were recognized in promotions to lieutenant junior grade in 1918, and lieutenant the following year.

Fabbri, who was released from active duty in 1919, was eventually awarded the Navy Cross for developing the "most important and most efficient station in the world," according to Navy documents that detailed Fabbri's contributions.

Otter Cliffs Radio Station continued to function long after Fabbri left. However, by 1933, the wooden buildings had become dilapidated, and due to the economic depression, Navy funds were not available for repairs.

For many, it had become an eyesore on beautiful Ocean Drive on Mt. Desert Island. John D. Rockefeller Jr., was one of the influential people who desired to have it removed. While he found support for his view in several quarters in Washington, D.C., Otter Cliffs was very important to the Navy.

Because of the lack of man-made noise within many miles, and the unobstructed span of ocean water between there and Europe, Otter Cliffs was among the best radio sites along the East Coast and could receive signals from Europe when no other station in the United States could. It had been invaluable in World War I, when radio receivers were rather primitive.

By 1930, the station began to handle weather reports from Iceland and Newfoundland, and emergency traffic from Europe, when atmospheric conditions were so bad that Portsmouth, Maine; Boston, Mass.; and Washington D.C., could not copy the overseas transmissions.

The Navy was willing to meet Rockefeller halfway on the removal of the radio station from Otter Cliffs. If he would build an equally good receiving station on the coast within 50 miles of Otter Cliffs, the Navy would agree to turn over the Otter Cliffs Station to him to include it as a donation to Acadia National Park upon the removal of the station structures.

Big Moose Island, at the tip of Schoodic Peninsula about five miles across the mouth of Frenchman Bay from Otter Cliffs, seemed the ideal location.

The architect's plan for the new station included a beautiful building similar to Mr. Rockefeller's residence at Seal Harbor. Artisans from all over the world contributed to the project. It has been estimated that to build the same structure today would cost $10 million.

On Feb. 28, 1935, the U.S. Navy Radio and Direction Finding Station Winter Harbor was officially commissioned with Chief Radioman Max Gunn in charge of a complement of 11 personnel.

The station's name has changed several times over the years. In 1944, it was changed to Supplementary Radio Station, U.S. Naval Radio Station Winter Harbor. In 1950, it became known as U.S. Naval Radio Station (Receiver). The present station name, Naval Security Group Activity, Winter Harbor, became official on June 9, 1958.

In the last year, the base transitioned from an operational posture to focusing on the closure process, with the ultimate goal of transferring the Schoodic parcel to the National Park Service. The last System Maintenance Training Course graduated in July 2001. The Wullenwebber Antenna and Classic Wizard antennas came down in August. The last service was held at the Chapel Sept. 2, 2001, and the Foc'sle Galley served its last meal on Sept. 28, 2001.

In January, NSGA Winter Harbor held its final change of command ceremony, with Cmdr. James W. Guest assuming the duties as the facility's last commanding officer.

So, what's to come of this 100-acre wood? Well, the Schoodic Site will revert back to the National Park Service. They are currently working on a plan to turn the self-sufficient town into a learning center.

The Corea Site, once a well-oiled operations and training facility, is being handed over to the town of Gouldsboro, Maine. The three housing areas located off-base are expected to be turned over to the town of Winter Harbor.

The base is currently planning a Disestablishment and Rockefeller Building Commissioning Ceremony for May 17. Although the gates don't officially close until June, the ceremony will commemorate the strong bond the Navy has formed with the surrounding townspeople and the park service.

State and town representatives, Navy officials, active duty, family members and retired persons are all expected to attend the ceremony, where the "key to the base" will be turned over to the National Park Service.

Personnel interested in attending the ceremony may contact Cryptologic Technician (Administration) 2nd Class Brett Updegrove at (207) 963-5534, extension 212; or e-mail at mailto:bkupdeg@nsgawh.navy.mil.

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