DOE makes plans to offer new type of Hanford tour

Plans are being made to offer a new Hanford tour, this one telling the story of the settlers who lived near the Columbia River before they were forced out to make way for the secret Manhattan Project during World War II.

The public will see four pre-Manhattan Project structures that are now in the secure area of the nuclear reservation, announced Doug Shoop, acting manager of the Hanford Department of Energy Richland Operations Office.

In March 1943, 1,500 families were given eviction notices. It was the largest forced foreclosure in U.S. history, said Nancy Bowers, a Hanford B Reactor docent.

Most buildings were torn down, a signal to families that nothing remained for them there, she said. Orderly rows of stumps -- the remains of orchards -- can still be seen in the desert.

Among the families forced from their homes and businesses were Paul and Mary Bruggemann, who made their living on 400 acres downriver from the Vernita Bridge.

Decades after the land was made part of the nuclear reservation, they would come to the bridge and peer down the river to try to see what had become of their property.

After years of nurturing trees on soil kept moist with river water, the Bruggemanns were set to bring in their first major crop of cherries when they were evicted in 1943 to make way for a massive wartime plant to produce plutonium for atomic weapons.

Today, just one of the ranch's buildings remains standing. It is a beautifully crafted cobblestone warehouse with decorative touches like arched windows underlined with rows of smaller stones.

Down the river, the towns of White Bluffs and Hanford thrived in 1943.

But the federal government only left standing Hanford High School and the tiny, brick White Bluffs Bank.

Bank officials bragged that what was then a state-of-the-art structure was unrobbable, Bowers said, but they were wrong. The bank was robbed at least once.

The new planned tour also is expected to stop at the Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

Hanford tours are offered spring through fall, with tours finished for this year. Watch for notices of the 2015 tour schedule in the spring.