Learn about Hanford life before WWII in virtual tours

Beldin’s store and ice cream parlor served the people of Hanford in 1935. The only building still standing at the former town of Hanford is the high school.
Beldin’s store and ice cream parlor served the people of Hanford in 1935. The only building still standing at the former town of Hanford is the high school.

Hanford tours that tell the story of those who sacrificed to make way for the secret nuclear reservation during World War II have ended for the year.

But you can still take a virtual tour and learn about Hanford’s pioneers and the Native Americans who were forced to abandon their traditional use of Hanford in 1943.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation has launched a new online program with videos that allow visitors to hear from those who once lived on the land that’s now part of the Hanford nuclear reservation. The sites covered in the virtual tour are included in the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Hanford.

In 1942, agricultural communities were thriving along the Columbia River, and Native Americans fished and hunted along its waters.

But late that year, Col. Franklin Matthias flew over the small towns of Richland, White Bluffs and Hanford, looking for land for the secret project to produce plutonium for a deadly new type of weapon. Plutonium produced at Hanford would be used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II in 1945.

6,700 people living along the Columbia River between Hover and While Bluffs in 1942

“We have found the only place in the country that could match for a desirable site. We were very enthusiastic about it,” Matthias reported.

The Army Corps of Engineers would take more than 670 square miles along the Columbia River north of Richland.

Matthias paid a visit to Wanapum Band camped at Priest Rapids to tell them the government needed the land they had traditionally used, but could not say why.

“They didn’t know what to think or what to feel, because they didn’t understand why they were going to have to leave an area,” said Rex Buck of the Wanapum tribe in one of the videos on the virtual tour.

The Wanapums were told that what would be done on the land would help protect the United States and that after the war, their people could return.

They didn’t know what to think or what to feel.

Rex Buck of the Wanapum Band

“So they felt good about that, but that never did happen,” Buck said. Most of Hanford, except part of the security zone around it, remains closed.

Veronica Taylor of the Nez Perce tribe said in another video that tribes used to come to the Hanford area to trade for the fish harvested there. It was like a modern day farmers market, she said, with meat, roots, berries, medicines, herbs and teas exchanged.

The Yakamas came to Hanford, the “Palm Springs” of the area, as the weather cooled.

“The winters were milder here, and so therefore we moved here and dispersed to all other parts of the country when the spring came,” said Russell Jim of the Yakama Nation.

Scattered homesteads began to appear along the river in the Hanford area by 1870, but the area did not really thrive until irrigation began.

Two irrigation companies went bankrupt, but a third company figured out that the desert was reclaiming Columbia River water as it flowed through open trenches, said Tom Marceau, Mission Support Alliance archaeologist.

Paul and Mary Bruggemann headed one of the area’s successful farming families in 1943, growing orchards, alfalfa and rye on 227 acres along the Columbia River.

Their son, Ludwig, was just 5 years old but recalled that one day “two Jeeps driving in, two military jeeps.” The family was told it had two months to move out, “which was a real challenge for a farmer,” Ludwig Bruggemann said in a video.

Why, it was ridiculous! Ridiculous!

Annette Heriford, who lived between White Bluffs and Hanford

“Why, it was ridiculous! Ridiculous!” said Annette Heriford, in an interview recorded before her death.

Heriford’s family was offered $1,700 for the farm they were forced to leave. But their well alone had cost $1,900, she said.

The White Bluffs Bank was the central hub for financing in the area, said Russ Fabre, B Reactor tour manager, in one of the virtual tour’s videos.

“As such, you can imagine that it would be just prime for robberies,” he said. One robber, apprehended while still in the bank, was sentenced to five years in the Walla Walla Penitentiary, and his accomplice to 15 years.

Most of the pre-WWII buildings on the Hanford nuclear reservation have been torn down.

But the bank, the Bruggemann warehouse, the Allard pump house and the Hanford High School can be visited when Department of Energy tours resume this spring. The Pre-Manhattan Project tours tell the stories of life along the Columbia River as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

To take the online tour created by the Atomic Heritage Foundation, go to www.atomicheritage.org/tours and click on “Hanford’s Pioneers.” Virtual tours developed earlier by the Atomic Heritage Foundation also are available there, including an online tour of B Reactor.

The project was paid for by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the city of Richland. It was created in partnership with the B Reactor Museum Association and the Department of Energy at Hanford.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews