Hanford gives Tri-Cities a history like nowhere else. New WSU book series tell the tales

Children swim in the Columbia River at White Bluffs in 1925. The land now is part of the Hanford nuclear reservation.
Children swim in the Columbia River at White Bluffs in 1925. The land now is part of the Hanford nuclear reservation. Courtesy Department of Energy

A new series of Tri-City area history books has launched with the story of the people whose homes, land and businesses were seized for a secret wartime project in 1943.

The Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities is using the oral histories it’s recorded as the basis of books that will tell the unusual history of the region as shaped by the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The first book — “Nowhere to Remember — Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland to 1943” — will be featured at a launch party 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the visitor center for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland.

The three towns in the book’s title were centers for small farming communities, where irrigation and hard work made fruit orchards flourish.

“First time I ever tasted cherries or even seen a cherry tree was (in White Bluffs),” said Leatris Boehmer Reid in an interview for the book. “It was covered with orchards and alfalfa fields.”

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Washington State University Press

But the government forced the residents out when it took over more than 580 square miles of land on the Columbia River to build the industrial complex that would produce plutonium for atomic bombs, helping end World War II.

“Fruit farmers had to leave their crops on their trees,” Catherine Finley said. “And that was very hard on them. No future, no money ... they moved wherever they could get a place to live.”

The book, edited by Robert Bauman and Robert Franklin of the WSU Hanford History Project, was written to academic standards but uses oral histories to make the history more accessible.

Franklin covers the tight bonds among early residents, and Bauman tells the story of the removal of those who lived on the land.

Other writers relate the experiences of women who lived in the region in the early 20th century and look at transportation to root the local history in the larger context of the American West at the time.

The shell of Hanford High School still stands, 75 years after the federal government seized the communities of Hanford, White Bluffs and Richland during World War II. Tri-City Herald File

Next up in the series will be a book covering race and diversity, Franklin said.

It’s planned to cover African Americans at Hanford during WWII and during the civil rights movement in the Tri-Cities; WWII internment of Tri-Cities-area residents of Japanese descent; Native Americans and women.

Historians also are interested in covering the early Latino workers at Hanford.

The first book in the series can be purchased for $24.95 plus shipping costs from WSU Press at wsupress.wsu.edu.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews