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It’s November 1955, the former Camp Adair Cantonment is mostly gone, the former Camp Adair Hospital and former married student housing for Oregon State College, is also mostly gone, a few buildings remained.  However, a new purpose for the site was to be announced.

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Aerial View of Camp Adair Hospital, 1943, looking east

The residents of the Benton, Linn, and Polk counties learned of a “semi-secret” Air Force installation that was to be built at the former Camp Adair Hospital site.  Rumors about re-use of the area began in about 1954 about the potential for moving the Portland Air Force Base, all or in part, to Turner, Hillsboro, or Camp Adair.  There was even a rumor that Boeing would build a manufacturing plant in the area. These rumors did not prove to be correct.  Test drilling was conducted to determine the suitability of the soil for the construction of up 20 buildings at the former Camp Adair hospital site, as was reported in the Corvallis Gazette Times and the Albany Democrat Herald, 15 November 1955.  It was reported to be an “air defense communications facility” and the acronym “SAGE” was used and defined later to stand for “semi-automatic ground environment”.  The program did not anticipate a “housing area” for married personnel at the time, but it was hoped that private housing would be found at the time.  That obviously was to change.  According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle district, the complex was already designed and blue-printed.

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Corvallis Gazette Times, 15 November 1955

From the time of the announcement in 1955 to September 1956, not much activity was apparent at the site, but there was activity behind the scenes.  The U.S. Department of Defense, the local and state politicians, and even local chambers of commerce, were involved in the decision process to have the Camp Adair site officially designated.  Finally, on 6 September 1956, Oregon Senator Wayne Morse announced that the former Camp Adair Hospital site would be the location of the “SAGE Radar Installation.”  The announcement also reported that a “large concrete structure, which would house the main electronic instruments… this building, of exceptionally heavy construction, is believed to have involved most of the problem since it requires sturdy foundations.” (Corvallis Gazette Times, 6 September 1956)

Bids for construction of buildings at the new installation were open on 2 May 1957 (Corvallis Gazette Times 11 April 1957).  Six contractors were given sets of plans.  The plans, amongst others, called for construction of “two major buildings.  One is a four-story 270 by 150 foot central structure and the other a 150 by 23-foot two story powerhouse.  Both buildings will be of reinforced concrete, without windows.”  Prime contractor for these two buildings was Western Electric Company from New York.

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The Adair Air Force Station “Blockhouse” under construction, 1958 (designated Direction Center #13)

Other contractors were used for the other building construction.  The bids now included a 150-160 unit housing area for married personnel as it was found that there was a shortage of suitable private housing.  The Ross B. Hammond Company of Portland was awarded the bid to construct the two large concrete buildings to house the vast amount of computerized and radar equipment.  Builders Supply Company of Corvallis provided the concrete.  Construction began in June, 1957.  Over all, there were between 20 and 30 contractors for the entire project.  IBM Corps was the contractor for the computer and radar equipment to be housed in the large concrete structure.  The Todd Building Company (Roseburg) was another major contractor responsible for building the base housing.

While construction was on-going another potential project was being considered for the former Camp Adair.  The BOMARC (Boeing-Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) ground-to-air guided missile system to be used for air defense was to be sited on about 97 acres in the former cantonment area.  This missile site, to be under the operational control of HQ POADS, was projected to cost more that the construction of the Air Force SAGE site with 400-500 military personnel estimated to be assigned there.  Not everyone in the local area was supportive of this project, especially the nearby farmers.  On 7 June 1958, formal approval for the construction of the BOMARC site was given by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Air Force.

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BOMARC Missile Battery (Boeing), 1958

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Artist rendering of potential BOMARC Facility at Camp Adair, Corvallis Gazette Times, 31 July 1958

At the same time of the BOMARC approval, the first Air Force member was assigned to the SAGE installation at Camp Adair.  He was Master Sergeant (MSgt) Paul Sottler and he came from McChord Air Force Base at Tacoma, WA.  His job was to set up an office and start preparing for in-coming Air Force personnel.  He and his family lived in Albany until base housing was available.

Shortly after the arrival of MSgt Paul Sottler, the first Air Force Officer, Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Stacy Brown was assigned.  He and MSgt Sottler set up their temporary headquarters at the Game Commission building at Camp Adair.  Lt. Col. Stacy E. Brown would be the officer in charge of preparing the new station for operations and occupancy.  One of the first things he had to deal with was a state-wide labor strike which temporarily halted construction. He would later retire to Corvallis and become involved in the local community.

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MSgt Paul Sottler and Family
Albany Democrat Herald, 27 September 1958

Lt Col Stacy E. Brown
Salem Statesman Journal, 17 July 1959

Later in 1958, the first Commander of the newly designated Headquarters, Portland Air Defense Sector (POADS), Col. Harold W. Scruggs was assigned with Lt. Col. Stacy E. Brown as his Vice Commander.  Shortly after his assignment the next air force officer was Lt. Col Leonard B. Scott, Jr., who would become the first “Base Commander”.  He would be responsible for all support functions at the base level.

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Col Harold W. Suggs, 1958              Lt Col Leonard B. Scott, 1958

By November 1958 the construction of the “blockhouse” and the power generation building was complete.  16,000 yards of concrete was used in their construction.  At the same time, building of the 150 unit base housing, support facilities such as a gymnasium, mess hall, officer’s club, NCO club, dormitories, supply houses, dispensary, maintenance shops and base headquarters continued.  After installation and assembly of the internal computer and radar-related equipment the testing process began.

Meanwhile, construction of the $40,000,000 BOMARC facility at the former Camp Adair cantonment was continuing.  28 launch pads were planned initially with more to be added later.  Contractor for the building of the launch pads was Donald M. Drake Company (Portland). Contractor for the building of the infrastructure of the facility was awarded to Cornell, Howland, Hayes and Merryfield Co. (CH2M Hill) of Corvallis, OR.

By October 1959 almost all of the buildings at Adair Air Force Station were complete (with the exception of the Base Chapel, which was constructed in 1960-1962).  The SAGE computer system was accepted by the Air Force and testing of the SAGE system began. However, the BOMARC project was coming under scrutiny as there was a conflict between the two congressional houses (Senate and House) as to the type of missile system that was most appropriate.  The House supported the Army Nike Hercules system while the Senate supported the Air Force BOMARC missile system. 

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Aerial View of Adair Air Force Station, 1959
(note: the Base Chapel and Fire Station are not yet built)

In January 1960, HQ POADS at Adair Air Force Station welcomed its first, permanent, Sector Commander.  Col. Leon W. Gray, a famous fighter pilot, transferred from Geiger Air Force Base, Spokane, WA.  The SAGE system became fully operational, which was the good news.  The bad news was that it was announced in March that the BOMARC project was to be scrapped.  It was 60% complete.  The Army NIKE Hercules system was chosen as the preferred air defense missile system and the Air Force would develop the Atlas ICBM missile system.

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Col Leon W. Gray, 1960

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BOMARC Site at time of Cancellation, Statesman Journal, 27 March 1960

From construction start in 1957 to formal acceptance by the Air Force in 1959, to becoming fully operational in 1960, HQ POADS at Adair Air Force Station, became a fixture along Highway 99 W, until September 1969, when the SAGE system became obsolete due to the Soviet threat no longer being from bombers but by ICBM missiles, against which SAGE could not defend.

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San Bernardino County Sun, 17 September 1969