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 had not one but two 300kT thermonuclear warheads targeted against it). In order to survive a nuclear attack a location at least 20 miles from Hartford 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 100,000 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. Needless to say 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 fact that 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 and perhaps into the early nineties but the advent of electronic storage made the facility obsolete. 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 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: