During the Cold War, the Western Bloc – the United States and her allies - flew as many as 3,000 spy missions a year over the Soviet Union. The U-2 Spy Incident of 1960 involved a US attempt to photograph Soviet military bases from a high altitude. CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers – who grew up in Wise County, Virginia – flew over the Soviet Union in a U-2 spy plane that could gain altitudes of up to 70,000 feet. During the mission Powers was shot down by a Soviet ground to air missile and spent two years in prison before being returned to the United States in exchange for a Soviet prisoner being held here. The negotiation of Powers’ release was the subject Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies. Co-founded by Powers’ son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., the Cold War Museum preserves Cold War history for future generations and honors American service men and women of that era.

The Cold War Museum is located at Vint Hill Farm in Fauquier County. Before the Revolutionary War, Vint Hill was a quiet vineyard in the scenic rolling hills of Northern Virginia. In the mid-1800s the Low family acquired the property and built a fashionable brick home here. The Lows were left unscathed by the numerous Civil War Battles in the area as Mr. Low was an Englishman who flew the British flag over the farm to signify neutrality. In 1910 Vint Hill was purchased by Philadelphians and continued as a working family farm.

Through serendipitous events prior to World War II it was discovered that Vint Hill Farm is, in fact, the site of a rare geological formation that creates a natural long-range radio antenna where short wave radio signals from Europe are easily received. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army moved to Vint Hill Farm and converted the barn into a signal intelligence station. Vint Hill became a highly classified facility, and the National Security Agency (NSA) was born here.

During World War II approximately 1,000 enlisted men and 200 enlisted women served at Vint Hill intercepting ‘ditty bop’ - Morse code received on radio transmitters. In 1943 the first Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Company of the 2nd Signal Support Battalion arrived at Vint Hill. It’s said that when the WACs reported for duty the sale of aftershave quadrupled in the PX. More importantly, the WACs presence at Vint Hill paved the way for a broader inclusion of women in the armed forces. In 1971 the Army Security Agency admitted enlisted women for the first time, and some, like their predecessors, were assigned to Vint Hill to perform electronic communications surveillance.

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Women recruited into signal intelligence at Vint Hill were required to possess superior skills in math, pattern identification, and foreign languages. A 23-kiloton bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll left the island lethally contaminated with radiation.

Affiliated with the Smithsonian, and located at the now decommissioned NSA, CIA and US Army electronic surveillance center at Vint Hill Farm, the Cold War Museum illustrates the five decades of international tension, spying, counter-spying, one-upsmanship, and near-annihilation that came to be known as The Cold War. The two super-powers at the center of the Cold War – The United States and the Soviet Union – never fought an actual battle as each side possessed massive nuclear arsenals sufficient to ensure mutual annihilation. Instead, the Cold War took the form of ‘proxy wars’ – propaganda, espionage, regional conflicts, and competitions such as the arms race and space race and assertion of cultural superiority. The Cold War began after World War II and ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. George Orwell coined the phrase 'Cold War' and accurately predicted that the US-Soviet balance of power would bring 'a peace that is no peace.'

The Cold War Museum reveals the omnipresent anxiety of those five decades through artifacts and exhibits that include radio signal intelligence equipment, a Russian surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile booster, Fallout Shelter signs and plans for building basement and backyard fallout shelters, a commemoration of the WACs who served at Vint Hill, an 'Air-Raid Game' featured in the children's magazine Jack & Jill in 1961, as well as exhibits covering Area 51 and the nuclear blasts at the Bikini Atoll, Yucca Flats and Hanford test sites.

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Smart Bombs equipped with lasers, radar and thermal guidance were dropped over North Vietnam during the Cold War.

The Cold War Museum is open weekends and offers guided and self-guided tours of the museum’s galleries. There are lots of fascinating artifacts and memorabilia here, so allow plenty of time to see it all. The museum is conveniently located adjacent to Vint Hill Craft Winery and Old Bust Head Brewery, both of which offer tastings, as well as the Covert Café and Green Maple Market, both of which offer edibles, and the Vintage Hill antiques emporium. Vint Hill Farm is a fun place to visit and shop, but remember, after you leave, you were never here ...

Pictured at the very top: The Cold War Museum's exhibits include an SA-2 Missile Booster of the type used to shoot down Francis Gary Powers' photographic reconnaissance flight over the Soviet Union in 1960.

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Francis Gary Powers is shown climbing into the cockpit of an Air Force plane some time before he became a U-2 pilot.  (Library of Congress)