Horse Ridge Cellars

 Horse Ridge Cellar – Stafford, CT


      In the early sixties tensions between the world's two super powers, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., were at an all time high, culminating with the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962.  American industry responded to these tensions in a number of ways.  In Hartford, CT, the "Insurance City," fear of nuclear war prompted a number of area insurance companies and banks to form a new enterprise known as the "Underground Record Protective Trust Vault."  In this pre-computer era, paper records and microfilm were the stock and trade of financial institutions and protecting such records from damage and destruction was vital to the survival of these businesses.  Due to the proximity of Pratt and Whitney and other defense contractors there was little doubt that Hartford was on the Russian's target list (after the cold war ended previously classified targeting lists revealed that Hartford apparently had not one but two 300kT thermonuclear warheads targeted against it).  In order to survive a nuclear attack on Hartford a location at least 20 miles from the city was needed and even at that distance a nuclear hardened structure was required.

  After a search a large parcel was purchased in the farmland of northeastern CT.  The Trust, made up of companies from Hartford, East Hartford, New London, and Meriden, bought the 210-acre property from Armand Ricard for $30,000 on Nov. 29, 1961, according to the deed on file in the Stafford Town Hall.  Both distance from Hartford and a natural mountain range would help protect a storage facility at this location.  In 1961, the Jarvis Construction Company of Manchester, CT, under the direction of the Onderdonk and Lathrup engineering firm of Glastonbury, CT., started construction of an underground vault using specifications provided by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).  Using the "scoop and fill" method a large hole was excavated in the side of the hill on the east end of the property and a 10,000 square foot concrete vault was built. It was then covered by fifteen feet of soil. The facility had 2-foot thick reinforced poured concrete walls, a 9 ton blast door and included an air filtration system that would filter out post-attack fallout.  Other features included a 100kW diesel generator to provide back-up power and redundant heating and cooling systems.

  The specifications called for the vault to survive anything but a direct hit by a nuclear bomb, thus guaranteeing the survival of the business and financial records housed within. Stored in this way the records were also safe from hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, theft and vandalism.

  The facility, built at a cost of $330,000, opened in 1962 and was used to store paper documents and microfilm from over two hundred Hartford area banks and insurance companies.  Each company had their own locked wire mesh enclosed storage area within the confines of the vault's 100' x 100' interior space.

   The caretaker of the facility lived in the farmhouse on the adjacent property and was the only regular employee.  In addition to routine maintenance, his job was to open up the facility when new records arrived.  Several large barn-like outbuildings were constructed to serve as crisis relocation centers where post-disaster operations could be conducted. 

   Arrangements were reportedly in place with both the Connecticut and the Massachusetts state police to allow those agencies to use the bunker in the event of an emergency and indeed the facility was originally wired with twenty phone lines and had a public safety band antenna on the roof to facilitate this use.  There is also one report that the original alarm system was wired directly to the nearby state police barracks.

  The advent of digital storage and satellite and digital communications made the facility obsolete by the late eighties.  Most companies could back-up their files electronically to sites thousands of miles distant much easier than transporting paper records via road to a location 20 miles outside of town.

   The farm and bunker were purchased by a private individual in the early '90s and the bunker was left unused for close to a decade.

    In 2000 the bunker was purchased and was converted to serve as a commercial wine storage facility.  The constant temperature and humidity, the darkness and the lack of vibration were ideal for wine storage, and the in-depth security made the facility attractive to people looking to store their valuable collections of wine.

    The current owners of the facility, Jed and Amie Benedict, generously provided us with a tour in mid-2010. The photos of the facility below are from that visit.

1995 Hartford Courant Article:

View of the bunker from the public road.  The barn covers the bunker entrance.

A barn-like structure was built around the entrance in recent years to prevent wind and rain from entering the facility when the interior doors were open.

Looking back down the access road.

The parking lot which also reportedly served as a heliport.  One contributor told us that the facility was once visited by the vice president of the US who arrived by helicopter!

Blast-hardened air intake on the "roof" of the bunker disguised to look
from the distance like an ordinary equipment shed.

A closer view reveals a maintenance hatch designed to withstand the huge
over pressure that a nearby nuclear detonation would create.

Inside the barn:  close-up of exterior door.  Note thickness of walls in the foreground.

 Radio antenna pre-positioned on roof of bunker reportedly provided direct
connection to the nearby CT State Police HQ.

We're inside the "barn" looking at the exterior door.  Originally made of steel the door was replaced with wood.  Security was not compromised as you will see in the following images.

Upon going through the first door, one has to take two, right angle turns behind extremely heavy walls to reach the main entrance of the facility, shown above.  The two right angles were designed to prevent gamma radiation from entering the facility.  This twelve ton Mosler Safe Company door provides significant blast protection and security.

Mosler Safe Company vault doors were used to provide blast protection in the majority of governmental and large industrial fallout shelters.

In the event of a nuclear attack this walk-through decontamination
shower would have been used by those entering the facility.

Additional security.

Proud owner Jed stands next to the original sign identifying the facility. 

The facility provided 10,000 square feet on interior space.

The bunker is currently used as a world-class wine storage facility.

Some of the original access logs.

A ledger from 1988 indicates that representatives from the following companies visited the facility: Aetna Life and Casualty, Cigna, Covenant Insurance, PCC, United Illuminating (UI), LIMRA, The Archdioceses of Hartford, MM Co, C.O.E.C., Arthur Lux Co. and A.O.

Original sign reminding the users of the privacy available.

Although the official purpose of the bunker was to store and protect insurance and bank documents the presence of this original sign and reports of extensive supplies of food rations makes us think that the facility was also designed as a fallout shelter for people.  There is at least one report that bank and insurance VIPs and their families would have been provided space in an emergency.

Some of the original survival rations.

100kW diesel generator which could provide back-up power for several weeks.

Enough fuel was kept on hand to operate the facility 24/7 for two weeks.

This view taken from the top of the bunker looking in the direction of Hartford shows the rural nature of the countryside. Approximately 20 miles from Hartford was considered a "safe" distance.

The pillars above, spaced every 20 feet, provide some indication
 as to the strength of the bunker, which lies 15 feet below ground.

All infrastructure systems were hardened and redundant.

Door to escape hatch.

Escape ladder.

Looking up the escape hatch. The pressure door above (not shown) was designed for a
submarine and is able to withstand incredible pressure.  The entire facility is extensively alarmed.

The original facility was served by twenty telephone
 lines via underground conduit.  This rotary dial phone still works.

This is one of the original alarm panels with direct connection 
to the nearby state police barracks.  Needless to say the current
facility incorporate extensive state of the art security measures.

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