Imagine Ashley Pond strolling around Ashley Pond... Confused? Ashley Pond Jr. founded the Los Alamos Ranch School, which operated here from 1917 to 1943. This body of water, named Ashley Pond, pays tribute to his legacy.
Ashley Pond Jr. established the Los Alamos Ranch School to give boys a classical education combined with a focus on the outdoors. Boys slept on screened-in porches and wore shorts every day as part of their uniforms—even in winter! Each student became a member of Los Alamos Boy Scout Troop 22, the first mounted troop in the country.
When Pond established the school, the bulk of the development on the plateau amounted to a farmhouse and a few hundred acres of pasture next to a muddy puddle that would eventually become Ashley Pond. A small community emerged with dining halls, dormitories, and faculty residences supporting the school’s operation. In those days, the small pond occasionally went dry, but it provided opportunities for swimming and canoeing in the summer and hockey and skating in the winter. When the pond froze over in winter, staff cut out blocks of ice and stored it in the nearby Ice House for summer use.
In 1942, Manhattan Project leaders scouted locations for their weapons development laboratory. After visiting a few sites, lab director Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer brought the group to Los Alamos Ranch School. Immediately convinced of its suitability, Gen. Leslie Groves, commander of the Manhattan Project, selected the site, and on December 7, 1942, school President and Director A.J. Connell received a letter from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson:
You are advised that it has been determined necessary to the interests of the United States in the prosecution of the War that the property of the Los Alamos Ranch School be acquired for military purposes.
Therefore, pursuant to existing law, a condemnation proceeding will be instituted in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico to acquire all of the school's lands and buildings, together with all personal property owned by the school and used in connection with its operation. Although the acquisition of this property is of the utmost importance in the prosecution of the war, it has been determined that it will not be necessary for you to surrender complete possession of the premises until February 8, 1943. It is felt that this procedure will enable you to complete the first term of the regular school year without interruption.
You are further advised that all records pertaining to the aforesaid condemnation proceeding will be sealed, by order of the Court, and public inspection of such records will be prohibited. Accordingly, it is requested that you refrain from making the reasons for the closing of the school known to the public at large.
The Manhattan Project purchased the land and rapidly transformed the small boarding school into a top-secret laboratory.
Continue Your Journey
As you walk around downtown Los Alamos, you can explore the Los Alamos Historical Society campus, which includes the Los Alamos History Museum, Hans Bethe House, Fuller Lodge, Romero Cabin, and Ancestral Pueblo Site.
On the southern bank of the pond, the Ice House stands as a memorial to the Los Alamos Ranch School days and Project Y. The Bradbury Science Museum has interactive exhibits that share stories from the Manhattan Project and provide a glimpse of historic sites “behind the fence.”