The Five College Library Depository: the Bunker

During the Cold War in the late 1950s, when Westover Air Force Base was fully operational and the country was attempting to prepare for nuclear war at any moment, a secret Air Force command post was constructed underground in the Holyoke Range just south of the Hampshire campus. This facility was excavated in the north side of Bare Mountain, which rises just west of the Notch where Rte. 116 crosses the range. It was designed to be totally self-contained and capable of supporting 100 men for 90 days in the event of war. Inside the thick steel door were showers for decontamination, giant bunkrooms for service personnel, and a War Room right out of Dr. Strangelove, complete with projectors to show graphic images of imminent nuclear threats on the interior walls of the three story structure. The facility was strictly off limits to local residents, though many rumors were current, like the "missle silos" to be seen in the woods nearby (actually, the large concrete structures are manholes for access to telephone and other utility lines).

With the end of the Cold War and the conversion of Westover into an Air Reserve base in the early 1980s, the Bunker fell on hard times. It was stripped of military hardware and furniture, and left to gather dust. For a while it was used by the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston to store bank records. Eventually the facility was purchased by Amherst College in 1999 and used for storage. The physical plant department used it to store furniture, and eventually part of it was renovated and used to store Amherst College library material.

With the aid of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Five College libraries leased part of the bunker from Amherst College, installed compact library shelving, and created the Five College Library Depository in 2002 to house little-used library books and journals. Maintained at a constant temperature and humidity, and staffed to transfer and store material from the libraries, the Depository (still unofficially known as the Bunker), provides access to the collection via scans, photocopies and loans to the Five College community. And the War Room is still there, though empty--a reminder of the deadly reality of the Cold War.