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Meet baby Mitre, born on the farm

If you don’t know what Mitre stands for, you’re forgiven. It doesn’t stand for anything. And you’re forgiven if you don’t know specifically what the organization does. It doesn’t do one specific thing. Besides, much of its work is hush-hush because it involves national security. But here are some facts about Mitre.

  • It was created by the US Department of Defense in 1958 to protect the nation’s airspace and blow the enemy out of the sky if necessary.
  • Satellite defense and surveillance systems? Definitely Mitre.
  • During Operation Desert Storm, Mitre identified and tracked Iraqi ground vehicles.
  • It’s the go-to source for understanding and preventing computer spying and “cyberattacks.”
  • Not impressed yet? Mitre was part of the internet before the word “internet” came along. Here’s the internet’s ancestor, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPNET). There’s Mitre near the bottom right corner. It became the first organization with a .org suffix. Yes, Mitre.org was numero uno! Now there are almost 11 million of them, including Burlington.org.

ARPANET

So Mitre is strong, silent and smart, a good neighbor to have. Here’s Mitre in its humble debut, just one laboratory building on Anthony K. Sebastian’s farm on the Burlington/Bedford border.

MITRE with Sebastian Farm operation

The debut building, shaped like an “E,” is long gone. The street going across the background is Bedford Street (called Burlington Road once you cross into Bedford). The teensy farmstand on the top right corner is now the main entrance to Mitre.

MITRE "E" Building in 1959. Demolished 2012/13.

The feds made Anthony Sebastian an offer he couldn’t refuse, which went something like this: “You’re going to sell your 175 acres to us in chunks over the next few years, and you’re going to smile the whole time.”

Helen Anderson, Anthony’s daughter, told the press in 1959: “We don’t want to leave, but this is a top priority industry for our national defense. Even if we refused to sell, they could still take the land from us. And I feel my dad put it very well when he said there are times when we have to give up some things to preserve our way of life.”

That’s a strong patriotic statement coming from an immigrant. Anthony was born in Poland in 1891. He was 68 and Helen was 39 when the US government rang the Sebastians’ doorbell and told them their fate. The family moved to Alstead, NH.

This meant saying goodbye to their Happy Valley fruit and vegetable stand. Why do farmers like retail shops? It’s a nice break from wholesaling everything to supermarkets. Better profit margin, too, when you bypass the middleman and sell directly to the public.

Happy Valley farmstand, Bedfod MA

There’s the farmstand, just over the Bedford line. That adjacent dirt road going off the top of the picture is now the main Mitre entrance. The foreground construction area is now an office park.

MITRE with Happy Valley farmstand

Mitre entrance

The property has hosted some other notable things besides Mitre and vegetables.

  • Burlington airport — In the early 1940s,  Marshall C. Britt and his family lived with the Sebastians and used some farmland for an airstrip and a hangar that held nine planes. It was called Burlington Airport. Bob Britt, his son, recalls a bit of folly when he was four or five years old. As the family prepped for an airshow, little Bob yanked on a cord and popped open a parachute, getting himself into a fine mess of silk. Much hilarity ensued. During WWII, the operation moved to Groton, MA. Another pilot who utilized the Mitre area was Bedford homebuilder Armando Giaccarini.

Britt's Airways ad 1944

  • German prisoners of war — During WWII, they became potato-pickers  on Sebastian’s farm.
  • Alan Beck, unfortunately — In 1979, the Burlington boy fell into an icy river behind Crowley Road in Burlington and slipped under the Middlesex Turnpike to the Mitre property. A passing motorist plucked him from the murky bottom and gave him mouth-to-mouth, saving his life in a case that made medical history. Story here.

Special thanks to Mitre archivist Krista Ferrante. The world needs more like her.

11 thoughts on “Meet baby Mitre, born on the farm Leave a comment

  1. I worked at the MITRE Corporation for 18 1/2 years – I was very sad when the Golf ball was taken down – but I guess that is progress
    A great report and very interesting to learn about the early years.

  2. My father worked at MIT from 1960-1973. My uncle was also employed there as an engineer. MIT was developing large computers. From there the Air Force took over this defense technology and chose IBM to build it. At that point, MIT decided that the operation needed to go private and in 1958 MITRE was born. So the name probably has its first three letters due to the connection to MIT

  3. I was told that MITRE was based on the verb “mitre” meaning to make things fit correctly.

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