Last updated: March 7, 2022
In the small town of White Bluffs, a horse was necessary to cross the water. For decades, the local ferry was powered by horses who walked on treadmills that provided the energy that propelled a boat across the Columbia River. Prior to white settlement, generations of indigenous people came to this area to fish for salmon, crossing the river in well-crafted canoes. Tribes lost access to this land when the US government appropriated the for Hanford Site for the Manhattan Project’s plutonium production facilities in 1943.
The Hudson’s Bay Company, a fur-trading conglomerate, installed a trading post on the east side of the river in 1826, to purchase pelts from the local native population. White settlers began operating a ferry at this site shortly after White Bluffs’ founding in 1861. Soon, thousands of gold miners arrived looking for transportation across the river as they made their way to gold mines in British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana. The White Bluffs ferry was a critical transportation hub for these miners. A local farmer operated the ferry as a part-time job that supplemented farm income. The town of White Bluffs included farmland and settlement on both sides of the Columbia River. This ferry knit them together, helping to make it a more cohesive community.
Continue Your Journey
The Department of Energy offers Pre-War Historic Sites Tours that explore the communities of Hanford and White Bluffs, which were displaced by the Manhattan Project. At the Allard Pumphouse, you can see remnants of the massive irrigation works that made farming possible in the arid Mid-Columbia region. Surviving buildings at the Bruggeman Ranch demonstrate the prosperity that large farmers attained before the Manhattan Project. At Hanford High School, you can see a major community institution that was repurposed as office space for the Manhattan Project. The Department of Energy also offers tours of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor.
If you are unable to attend one of these tours you, can see the former White Bluffs community from the White Bluffs Overlook, and the Hanford High School from the White Bluffs trail on the Hanford Reach National Monument.