Last updated: January 17, 2023
While just a shell today, Hanford High School was the center of the small farming community of Hanford. In 1943, the Manhattan Project used the government’s power of eminent domain to take Hanford’s land, evicting the people who had made this arid landscape into a home that they loved.
Constructed in 1916, this building is one of the few surviving structures from the town of Hanford. The school caught fire in 1936, and Hanford students commuted to neighboring White Bluffs High School while it was repaired. The situation reversed a few years later when White Bluffs High School burned. Farmers’ children often had to cut their education short to support their families. Yet Hanford’s children graduated at a much higher rate than most Americans who lived in farming communities. This building’s solid construction further demonstrates the importance of education to the farmers and ranchers who homesteaded in Hanford before the war.
The Manhattan Project converted the high school into offices. The surrounding area became a bustling construction camp that housed the workforce that built B Reactor and Hanford’s other plutonium production facilities. The camp opened in 1943 and soon had a population of over 40,000. By the summer of 1945, it was the third largest city in Washington State. Its eight mess halls could serve over 10,000 meals at a single sitting. Most of the labor force lived in huge barracks, segregated by sex and race. Managers and supervisors lived with their families in hundreds of tiny house trailers. Other professional staff tended to live in Richland, which became a family-oriented town with numerous amenities.
The camp’s approximately 1,175 buildings were moved or demolished once plutonium production began. Their location near the nuclear reactor and processing plants gave easy access to the construction sites, but it would have placed people who continued to work at the site at risk when the facilities they had built started up.
Continue Your Journey
Nearby historic structures, such as the T Plant and B Reactor, demonstrate the hard work that Manhattan Project laborers performed in this top-secret weapons program. If you would like to visit this area, book a Department of Energy Pre-War Historic Sites Tour, which explores the communities displaced from this area to make way for the Hanford Site. You may also visit the B Reactor on a Department of Energy B Reactor tour.