It was 71 years ago in May that the land for the Kenneth A. Kesselring Site began to be purchased to create the Atomic Energy Commission’s $20 million plant located in West Milton, Saratoga County, NY.
The Kesselring Site was built by the United States Government for the purpose of training nuclear officers and enlisted sailors to operate the United States Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.
The land was acquired by eminent domain primarily between May and August 1949. By August 1949, 70% of the land had been purchased and the other 30% would serve as a safety zone which would be purchased over the next few months.
At the time, it was a collection of individual parcels containing houses and farms along with small mill complexes along various streams and creeks. There were 78 parcels of land in all which displaced approximately 30 families.
The land, totaling 3900 acres, is in both the towns of Galway and Milton. The site was chosen for its low population density and abundance of water from the Kayerosseras Creek, Glowegee Creek and Crooks Brook.
Three cemeteries that remain on the property. The Potter Cemetery, in the Town of Galway, was named after Rev. Abel Potter. The other two, the Maxwell and Young Cemeteries, are in the Town of Milton.
The site was originally named the Remote Atomic Power Laboratory. Operations began at the site in 1955. In 1968, the site was renamed the Kenneth A. Kesselring Site in honor of the General Electric Company’s General Manager of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, who had died suddenly.
The most prominent feature of the site is the Horton Sphere. The Horton Sphere was built as the containment building for the Submarine Intermediate Reactor, a sodium cooled design that would eventually power the USS Seawolf (SSN-575).
The Horton Sphere (or the D1G Ball) was the first pressure containment building ever constructed and, at the time, was the largest sphere ever built.
Former President Jimmy Carter graduated from US Naval Academy in 1946 and in 1948 he began officer training for submarine duty and served aboard the USS Pomfret (SS-391). In 1952, he served three months of temporary duty with Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C., on the design and development of nuclear propulsion plants. In March 1953, he began nuclear power school at Kesselring and assisted in the setup of on-the-job training for the enlisted men being instructed in nuclear propulsion for the Seawolf.
Over the past 71 years the site has trained over 50,000 naval trainees. At one point it housed three reactors. Two are now out of commission and the third is currently being decommissioned. Most training is now done with simulators. Over the years, the property has grown into what might look like a small city of its own.
Karen Staulters is the Milton Town historian and has been involved in many local history projects as a Milton resident for 30 years. She is one of the founding members of the Saratoga County Heritage Hunters and most recently led the effort to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of The Kesselring site. Karen can be reached at email@example.com.
Photos, from above: Kenneth A Kesselring Site in the 1950s courtesy Town of Milton Historians Office Collection; an aerial view of the Kenneth A Kesselring Site; and an embroidered Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit Patch, 1960s (courtesy Mark Reinhart).