Nestled in a quiet Virginia county called Fauquier is an isolated farmhouse that’s been in use since 1803, including as a dairy. Originally referred to as “Vint Hill,” FOIA records from NSA show that it had several owners before it was purchased by the Army in 1942.
Situated in convenient proximity to the Signal Intelligence Service headquarters in Arlington, but still located far enough from the city to remain secretive, Vint Hill proved the perfect place for the Army to house a spy base: Monitoring Station No. 1.
The geography was the key. Evidently, its “location and quiet electromagnetic geology” made it a prime spot for intercepting radio signals abroad, reported Smithsonian Magazine. And during World War II, soldiers stationed there did just that.
“Private Leonard A. Mudloff intercepted a message from the Japanese ambassador to Germany in 1943 that described German fortifications, troop strength and contingency plans in western France,” the Fauquier Times wrote. “Once decoded, that information aided the Allies in planning the successful D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.”
According to the documents released by the NSA, the station was a crucial intelligence-gathering mechanism throughout World War II and beyond. Additional Army resources classified Vint Hill Farms Station at one point as one of the largest intercept facilities in the world.
“Vint Hill was one of the country’s most important intelligence gathering assets as well as a signal school, signal training center, and refitting station for selected signal units returning from combat prior to further overseas deployment,” the unclassified NSA material reads. “There was a major expansion in military construction, particularly quarters, during and following the Korean conflict.”
It became a major intelligence hub during the Cold War as well.
“After World War II, the base handled much of the reconnaissance and espionage that played a role in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis,” according to Middleburg Life, a local Virginia magazine. “During the Vietnam War, the barns were used in 1972 for training cryptoanalysts, radio intercept operators and people who repaired equipment. In 1973 the base’s focus switched to research and development."
The paper also noted that during the Cold War, Vint Hill Farms Station "was referred to as ‘Washington’s giant ear’ playing a critical role, first as a secret listening post and later as a center for the development of sophisticated equipment designed to intercept enemy transmissions.”
In 1999, the land was sold to the Vint Hill Economic Development Authority and designated for commercial use, though the main barn where the Army operated remained. A winery opened in 2009, with a Cold War museum following 2011. The museum was co-founded by Francis Gary Powers, Jr. , son of the U-2 pilot shot down and captured by Soviets in 1960, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Vint Hill’s Managing Partner Chris Pearmond said the site now holds significant value for members of the community in Fauquier as veterans and civilians who worked at Monitoring Station No. 1 stop by the winery every now and again. However, he added, they still maintain a certain level of secrecy about their work.
“It’s amazing how many people come here and say ‘you know, I would like to tell you what I did here 40 years ago,’" Pearmond told WUSA 9. “It’s great because I ask them ‘what did you do here 40 years ago?’ And they say, ‘did I say I was here 40 years ago?’ I say ‘if you were here, could you talk about it?’ They say ‘no, but I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay, please.’”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.