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Modern History

Allard Pumphouse

“We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths . . . in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that ‘the gates of hell’—the powers of aristocracy and monarchy—‘shall not prevail against it.’

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated . . .. Its floor shall be a hemisphere—its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by . . . natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood—of ‘peace and good will amongst men.’. . .”

– John L. O'Sullivan on Manifest Destiny, 1839, from "The Great Nation of Futurity," The United States Democratic Review 6:23 pages 426-430.


Waves of Commerce

 

The land comprising the Monument has an unusual and colorful provenance. The history of the Hanford Reach is the history and fulfillment of “Manifest Destiny.” The early exploration of the area began with fur trappers in the early 19th century, shortly after Lewis and Clark ventured through the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers just south of the Monument in 1804. David Thompson of the Northwest Company is the first documented explorer to pass through the Hanford Reach in 1811 on his way down the Columbia River in search of furs and trading possibilities. Other fortune seekers soon followed.

The discovery of gold in Idaho and Canada in the 1860s expanded the use of the Mid-Columbia and heralded beginnings of permanent development. The White Bluffs Road, likely first an Indian trail, became part of a travel system linking the river and the Caribou Trail on the north side of the Saddle Mountains. A ferry crossing on the White Bluffs Road began operation in 1859, making the road the hub of transportation and the scene of many cattle drives and wild horse roundups for the region. A small, transitory community emerged on the east bank of the river at the White Bluffs Road ferry crossing; White Bluffs became a bustling supply depot for unloading goods shipped by river on steamboats onto wagons for overland distribution to gold discoveries in British Columbia, Idaho and Montana. Those same steamboats carried the gold out to the coast. Remnants of the White Bluffs Road are visible in parts of the Monument to this day.

Gold fever struck the local region as well, with activity along the Ringold, Vernita and other river shorelines in the Hanford Reach. By the 1870s, Chinese miners were also working the placer gravels.

As the need for supplies—especially food—grew, agriculture and stock-raising activities increased. Around 1870, scattered homesteads appeared along the river banks, struggling to farm and raise stock. The native bunchgrass steppe, mild winters and open range provided a perfect environment for grazing, which attracted cattleman from other areas. Still standing on the Monument from this time period is a log cabin built about 1894, at the ferry landing, which served as a blacksmith shop and possible living quarters.

Permanent settlement commenced in earnest in the late 1880s and 90s, with scattered homesteads locating near water sources, primarily the river. Promises of irrigation just after 1900 spurred spirits and growth  in White Bluffs, Hanford and Wahluke settlements. The Hanford Ditch built in 1907 carried water from pumping stations along the river to anxious farmers.  Several pumping stations remain in the Monument today. The arrival of the spur line of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Hanford in 1913 brought more families. Settlement continued until the Depression in the 1930's but times were tough.

The River as a Regional Economic Engine

 

The Columbia River was a driving force for development. From the time the first explorers passed through the area, the river was the logical transportation corridor and remained the avenue to transport goods and people for nearly a century until the railroads arrived. The river was the key to settlement, providing transportation via steam-driven freighters and numerous ferries to the settlements of Wahluke, Vernita, Richmond, White Bluffs, Hanford and Ringold. More importantly, water for crops was critical, so irrigation companies formed. The development of several irrigation and land companies, supported in part by outside capital, provided the impetus to true settlement and town sites development. By 1907 the most significant irrigation development in the Hanford Reach, the Hanford Irrigation and Land Company, began construction of a major, twelve-mile ditch from the Allard Pumping Station near Coyote Rapids to the Hanford and White Bluffs communities.

The anticipation of profits provided incentives for Seattle-area developers to invest in the area. The success of the venture brought the first significant regional recognition to this unknown area, based primarily on the area’s mild climate, readily available and level land, perfect growing conditions for early crops, and irrigation. Orchards replaced other crops and livestock as the profitable commodity. The marketing of the new real estate and fruit crops resulted in railroad connections by 1913 with a spur line to Hanford from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, which provided the link for shipping products to coastal markets. The rail lines also benefitted farmers through quicker receipt of supplies and equipment. Ironically, the rail lines resulting from irrigation changed the Columbia River’s role as a transportation corridor; by the 1920s, steam freighters had nearly vanished from the river.

For over two decades, the towns of Hanford and White Bluffs grew and prospered. The White Bluffs area was selected as a soldiers’ home location after WWI; many of these ex-soldiers provided labor to established farmers. Advertisement through the realty companies and railroad land agents attracted nearly 500 families, many fleeing the Midwest in the 1920s and 30s looking for new starts. The Depression years reduced prosperity as a result of lower crop values, but many families could at least continue their own existence through subsistence farming and local economic systems. The First National Bank of White Bluffs remained open, and presumably solvent, throughout the lean years, not closing until 1942.

From Agriculture to Atomic Bombs

 

In 1943 these towns and the entire area changed forever. The entry of the United States into World War II and the race to develop an atomic bomb led to a search for a suitable place to locate plutonium production and purification facilities. In 1943, the War Department (later to become the Department of Defense) went in search of a remote, sparsely populated, easily defensible, geologically stable site with plenty of cool water, abundant energy (from hydropower dams on the Columbia River), and a moderate climate in order to build plutonium production reactors in secret. The United States Army Corps of Engineers selected a site near the isolated desert towns of White Bluffs and Hanford. Following site selection, the War Department acquired land through condemnation of private lands and purchase of any private lands within the basin formed by Rattlesnake Mountain and the Saddle Mountains. The Atomic Energy Commission, a precursor to the Department of Energy (DOE), then established and ran the Hanford Site (then known as the Hanford Engineering Works).

The Manhattan Project, designed to build the atomic bombs of WWII, required removal of all residents of White Bluffs and Hanford. Although some of the buildings became offices and residences for a short time, most were eventually removed along with crops, orchards and landscaping. At its essence, the “progress” of the atomic age helped to turn the landscape back in time, at least on the borderlands that make up the Monument.

Last Updated: May 03, 2013
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