White Deer and Nukes in the Finger Lakes

We have driven past the Seneca Army Depot hundreds of times on our way either to Binghamton, NY or to the Golden Buck restaurant in Ovid, NY. Each time we pass the miles of barb wire and chain link fence, we watch for the white deer and the brown deer that live in the fenced in area of the Seneca Army Depot near Romulus, NY.  We drive by the end of the old abandoned runway near Sampson State Park and keep a special sharp eye out for any deer as one destroyed my car several years back. The fences of the Seneca Army Depot encompass about 10,000 acres.

During the Second World War, one of Jeanette’s relatives, Bill Mezzadonna, was stationed at Sampson and he recounts how cold it was during a Finger Lakes winter there. He still shivers when he talks about it. We have always wondered what was behind those fences, so last Sunday we took a bus tour of the Seneca Army Depot sponsored by the Seneca White Deer Inc., and their partner Finger Lakes Technologies Group, Inc. of Victor, NY. It was a cold and rainy afternoon. The windows of the bus were wet with rain droplets and steamed over on the inside. Even the deer decided that it was not a good afternoon to be out and for the most part stayed hidden in the underbrush.

The bus passed through the famed “Q” area entrance (Special Weapons Area) which was a part of the Seneca Army Depot that was broken off from the Army Depot and developed in 1957 and 1958. It is an area which consists of about 600 acres on the northern part of the Seneca Army Depot and is surrounded by three barb wire/woven link fences each perhaps 15 feet tall and separated by about 15 yards. The middle perimeter fence was electrified to 4800 volts so if one did manage to break through the outer perimeter fence, you would be fried instantly when you touched the middle fence. If by some chance you did make it though the electrical fence, there still was a third inner fence. And there waiting for you would be several jeep loads of MP’s who were ordered to “shoot to kill”. No questions asked.

During the cold war (click here), nuclear weapons were stored in the over 500 concrete bunkers which remain on the site. The concrete bunkers were separated by an equally high berm of dirt and designed so that if something blew up in one bunker, the explosive forces would be directed upward, not disturbing the contents of the bunkers located on either side. Each bunker looks like a large half barrel lying on its side. There were two doors to the bunker located on one end of the bunker: An outer door that was made of steel and concrete. The outer door was meant to protect the inner door in the event of an attack. The inner steel door was ventilated so that fresh air would normally flow through the bunker, but the damper would automatically close if there was a fire on the outside, sealing the contents of the bunker from fire and smoke damage. If an uninvited guest did penetrate the doors, he was greeted by a cloud  of poisonous gas.

The bunkers are now empty. All have been emptied and checked for radiation or chemical contamination. Only a few messages appear on the wall where someone noted a crack in the wall that needed repairing or signed their name when they came into the bunker.

Just before you leaver, there are instructions of the wall for you to read as to how to properly store and care for explosives. A fitting reminder for those who didn’t pay attention to their Army classroom training! The cold war ended on Dec. 25, 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR. After 2013, the perimeter fences at the Seneca Army Depot will no longer be maintained by the US government.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Mary

    Great story Jim. We used to visit the Army base with my Dad while he was still in the Army but never knew bout the storage of specific materials until years after the base closed.

    1. jrBupp

      Thank you Mary. We came home with no pictures of white deer or pictures of nukes, but we learned a lot during our tour. Our guide was a member of the Seneca White Deer Inc. and is an ex-military man. He is doing research on the Seneca Army Depot as information becomes d-classified. The US Government will neither confirm or deny the storage of nuclear weapons in the Q area. In his investigation, he was investigated by the FBI.

      More importantly, the perimeter fences of the Seneca Depot will no longer be maintained by the US government after 2013. There is a lot of real estate to be developed there and one has to wonder what future developments will take place there.

  2. Fred Jensen

    Seems like it would be an excellent place to grow mushrooms. It would be fitting: exchanging one type of mushroom cloud for another. I suppose someone will come up with an excuse why it should not happen

    1. jrBupp

      Fred, you may be onto something here. Deer and mushroom stew, a new Finger Lakes product!

  3. Nancy A Nash Coleman

    We used to go to Seneca Army Depot about every 4 to 6 weeks … with my Dad retired from the AF in 1961 (I came along a few years later as a “surprise”), we did a lot of our shopping there & got prescriptions filled & sometimes got some medical care too … altho not often … mostly went to civilian docs … altho I remember an Army doc named Dr. LeMorte (as in “the death” in French!) … and, we often saw the white deer especially when we traveled from one end of the depot to the other thru pretty empty areas … behind heavy fencing, reminiscent of a prison with garrison wire and all that … that’s likely where the weapons were. I remember a lot of rumors of nuclear weapons supposedly under the northern end of Seneca Lake, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me … but, since this isn’t that far from the northern end of Seneca Lake, it’s likely that the weapons stored there were the basis of those rumors … a bit of truth with a lot of imagination! Not sure what my Dad knew (he’d been involved with Security Services during his active duty) about weapons there but, I don’t ever remember hearing that there were any there … until later after it closed … then it was, again, rumors. Thank you for this post … very interesting!

  4. W.Little

    Was temporally stationed at Romulus during the Nuclear protest in the summer of 83.Those were the days.

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