Hanford History Partnership aims to preserve heritage

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 6, 2013 

Sarah St. Hilaire, a Washington State University Tri-Cities intern, grew up steeped in Hanford history.

Her grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project and her mother was born in 1945 in Richland, then newly taken over by the federal government.

But she wondered why there was not more publicly available history on the early years of the nuclear reservation -- when settlers were forced off their land to make way for a secret World War II project and a construction camp for 50,000 people sprang up in the desert.

Now she'll be part of collecting the history of the Hanford area and making it more accessible to researchers, students, families with ties to Hanford and local residents as part of a new project organized by 11 Tri-City agencies.

The Hanford History Partnership plans to preserve and showcase the Hanford story.

"The Tri-Cities heritage in inextricably intertwined with the history of Hanford," Michael Mays, assistant vice chancellor of the College of Arts and Sciences programs at WSU Tri-Cities, said as the new partnership was announced Tuesday.

"This collaboration will capture, compile and document the diverse stories of life in our region before they are lost to time," he said. "And the public's help is needed to make sure the legacy endures."

Among the first projects of the new partnership is a goal to triple the number of oral histories recorded of life in the Tri-City area from 1907-67.

Those years cover the formation of the small farming towns of White Bluffs and Hanford, their sudden evacuation to make way for the Manhattan Project, the effort to create plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and then the initial decades of Cold War plutonium-production at Hanford.

A website has been created at www.ourhanfordhistory.org with a database of all the families who were displaced when Hanford was created and a map of where they lived, with the hope that those families can be tracked down. Written accounts and photos will be added to the website as they are collected.

Organizers of the Hanford History Project want people with stories to tell about the years from 1907-67 to let them know throough forms on the site. They also can call 509-372-7306 or email www.ourhanfordhistory.org.

A Facebook page to share historic photos and anecdotes also has been created at www.facebook.com/OurHanfordHistory.

Many agencies already have collected oral or written histories.

But it's difficult for the public to know where those histories are and what they cover. The history partnership will be organizing and cataloging information and will be creating a Hanford history collection as a permanent archive in the Max E. Benitz Library at WSU Tri-Cities.

The African American Community Cultural and Education Society, or AACCES, has collected oral histories of 11 people who played a role in Hanford's history, said Vanessa Moore of the group.

But just two of those people still are living, adding urgency to the history partnership, she said.

"People are dying. Their memories are not as good as they were. Families are scattered," she said.

The project will establish WSU Tri-Cities as an interdisciplinary teaching center for Hanford history. Other partners include AACCES, the Max E. Benitz Memorial Library, the B Reactor Museum Association, the CREHST museum, the East Benton Historical Society, the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, the Department of Energy, Northwest Public Television, the Herbert M. Parker Foundation, the Richland Public Library and the Tri-City Development Council.

Donations will be needed for the partnership, and information is available on the partnership's website.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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