Abandoned prison, part 1

As spooky places to explore go, I guess for most people ‘abandoned prison’ is second only to ‘abandoned asylum for the criminally insane’! The derelict buildings at Harrison’s Point, Barbados, fall into the former category, and while I wouldn’t describe the place as scary, its history and remote location do lend it an extremely eerie feel.

I stumbled across the site by chance whilst driving at the north of the island. Always up for a bit of ‘urbex’ (urban exploration), I steeled myself to return with my camera and photograph the abandoned buildings. It was only after a bit of research that I discovered the site’s full, interesting history.

US Naval Facility

US Naval Facility.Perhaps entitling this post ‘Abandoned Prison’ was a bit of a cheap way to draw readers in, because Harrison’s Point was originally built as a US Naval Facility, and operated as such for most of its existence, from 1957 to 1979. (‘Abandoned Naval Listening Post’ perhaps isn’t quite so enticing a read).

Its purpose was to operate as an underwater listening station, designed to track Soviet submarines during the cold war, as part of the chain of SOSUS (sound surveillance system) listening posts.

SOSUS bases initially stretched from Nova Scotia to Barbados, with later additional sites on the Pacific coast and in places as far afield as Iceland, Brawdy in Wales, Denmark, Turkey and Japan. Cables, some up to 100 miles long, were laid out along the ocean floor; each one had sensitive hydrophones spaced along it to detect the noise from submarines.

Naval personnel became so adept at interpreting the sounds they picked up, they could distinguish between whales, other ships and various Russian submarines.

The system is said to have been so sensitive that it could even detect Russian bombers flying thousands of feet in the air, as the tips of their propellers reached supersonic speeds and produced small sonic booms. The SOSUS array in Barbados reportedly accomplished the amazing feat of detecting the first Soviet nuclear submarine to enter the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, thousands of miles away, in 1962.

Mysterious Building ‘K’

Aerial photo of mysterious building.
Building ‘K’ or ‘T’ in the 1960s or 70s

There’s one rather anonymous-looking building (Building ‘K’ or ‘T’ depending on who you ask) that’s closest to the sea that is particularly well-sealed now, which I believe was the main, top secret building that housed the listening equipment.

Accounts from people stationed at the base suggest this building extends 4 or 5 stories below ground to sea level, where the cable entered the facility. I’ll be honest, that’s the one spot I bottled it and didn’t venture into!

The US naval base in Barbados was small, with a compliment of about twelve officers and eighty-eight enlisted personnel, and I imagine it was considered a rather plum posting. That said, one of the comments about a reunion of those stationed at US Navfac Barbados suggests that even in the late 1970s there were racial tensions. Sad if true.

Closure of the Naval Facility

The facility closed when technology moved on in the late ’70s. After the Americans left, the base was used by the Barbados Defence Force for some time, and also the Barbados Youth Service. However, the complex’s more recent history as a prison is perhaps most interesting – which you can read about in Abandoned Prison Part 2….

I’m not sure who holds the copyright on the following images, but I hope they don’t mind me using them to illustrate this article.

Continue to Part 2….