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Chapter 15: Land Acquisition

During the war the Manhattan District assembled extensive real estate holdings for its principal installations in Tennessee, New Mexico, and Washington State, as well as smaller tracts for its support facilities in other places, totaling more than 500,000 acres. Manhattan acquired most of this land, at least up to the point of occupancy, during the period September 1942 to August 1943; however, because of unavoidable legal delays in closing out procurement of original sites and recurring demands for additional space, it continued to be involved in some acquisition activities through September 1945.1

Land acquisition for the atomic energy project presented special problems hitherto never encountered by War Department agencies in their World War II real estate procurement programs. The Manhattan Project required absolute secrecy and unheard of speed in acquiring the needed sites. Yet these essential objectives were, in fact, inherently self-defeating, for land acquisition activities tended to attract widespread public attention and measures to expedite quick settlements tended to conflict with those for maximum secrecy.

Nonetheless, convinced that the ultimate success of the project was at stake, Manhattan officials persisted in enforcing strict security measures, even though the latter produced a far-reaching tide of local opposition at the Tennessee and Washington sites.2

Clinton Engineer Works

The District’s acquisition program in Tennessee officially began on 29 September 1942,3 when Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson approved Maj. Gen. Eugene Reybold’s letter directive requesting procurement of land for the Kingston Demolition Range, so-called for security reasons but in January 1943 officially redesignated the Clinton Engineer

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Works (CEW).4 (See Map 3.) Under terms of this directive, the Engineers chief had official authorization to purchase approximately 56,200 acres5 (Table 2), primarily in eastern Tennessee’s Roane and Anderson Counties, using money appropriated from the Engineer Service-Army category of available funds.

In anticipation of approval of this directive, the Engineers’ ORD (Ohio River Division) Real Estate Branch on 28 September had opened a project office, designated the CEW Land Acquisition Section, at Harriman, a Roane County town a few miles west of the site. The ORD staff began immediately to secure for the section the services of some fifty appraisers for the job of appraising an estimated 800–850 separate tracts. The fact that division personnel currently were involved in another large-scale acquisition program for the Dale Hollow Dam and Reservoir, situated on a branch of the Cumberland River near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, compounded the difficulty of their new task; however, they resolved the problem by arranging to borrow the appraisers, on a short-term basis, from several regional Federal Land Banks and from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) real estate staff. In keeping with War Department practices of basing appraisals mainly on an estimate of prevailing property values as determined by a review of comparable sales, on interviews with owners, and on actual physical inspection of each tract, the appraisers were able to complete most of the work on the original site by the end of 1942.6

The directive of 29 September had authorized procurement of the original site by condemnation. This permitted not only immediate acquisition of those parts of the area needed for preliminary construction but also expedited acquisition of properties with defective titles. On 6 October (effective 7 October), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Northern Division, issued an order of possession at the request of ORD Real Estate Branch attorneys. The court took cognizance of the hardship to landowners facing removal

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Table 2: Land Acquisition At CEW, 1942–1944

Date of Directive Acreage To Be Acquired* Estimated Cost Type of Control Acquired Use or Purpose
29 Sep 42 56,200 $3,500,000 Outright purchase Original site
14 Jun 43 15.1 1,750 Outright purchase For protection and security
3 Jul 43 70 14,107 Outright purchase Spur track right of way
15 Jul 43 3.73 400 Outright purchase Channel diversion of Poplar Creek
25 Sep 43 47.7 3,740 Outright purchase Borrow pit
5 Feb 44 62 14,600 Perpetual easement Access road
3 Mar 44 17 5,100 Outright purchase Access road
19 Apr 44 279 Temporary-use permit from TVA Expansion of facilities
2 May 44 .89 200 Perpetual easement Access road
.3 100 Outright purchase Access road
4 Aug 44 .32 Temporary-use permit from TVA Access road
28 Aug 44 425 Temporary-use permit from TVA Security
2,375 170,000 Lease or outright purchase Security

* Figures given here represent the amounts estimated in the real estate directive, the sum totaling about 59,500 acres. The actual acreage finally acquired was less, approximately 58,900 acres.

Source: MDH, Bk. 1, Vol. 10, pp. 1.3–1.4, 2.21–2.26, App. B1, DASA

on short notice by limiting the government’s right of immediate exclusive possession to those sections where it was “essential to full and complete development of the project ...”7

The Manhattan District did not take exclusive possession of any tracts for construction purposes before 15 November, although it had exercised right of entry at many points before that date. The CEW Land Acquisition Section requested that owners and tenants, most of whom were farmers, be prepared to vacate at various times between 1 December 1942 and 15 February 1943. In some instances, where immediate vacating would cause undue hardship, the District permitted landowners to stay on even beyond the 15 February date. The effectiveness of this lenient policy is attested to by the fact that project officials never had to resort to a court order to secure eviction of an owner from the Clinton site.

As soon as the ORD Real Estate Branch had assembled sufficient data to meet legal requirements concerning areas needed immediately for military construction, branch attorneys filed declarations of taking. They filed the first declaration on 20 November 1942, covering a segment comprised of 13 tracts. By mid-January 1943 declarations were on file for 184 tracts covering 9,614 acres and, by May, for 742 tracts constituting

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Farm at the Tennessee site, 
typical of those acquired by the Manhattan District

Farm at the Tennessee site, typical of those acquired by the Manhattan District

53,334 acres – or nearly all privately owned property of the original site. Meanwhile, during the winter and spring of 1943, CEW Land Acquisition Section negotiators had succeeded in obtaining stipulation agreements on more than half the tracts in litigation. By the end of May, agreements of this type had been worked out on 416 tracts comprising 21,742 acres. In those cases where the negotiators failed to secure stipulation agreements, branch attorneys consented to submit them to a jury of view, an institution provided for under Tennessee law to assist litigants in reaching agreement on settlement prices for expropriated property. The jury, comprised of five persons named by the Federal District Court, visited each of the tracts in contention and then advised new settlement prices uniformly higher than those established by War Department appraisers. When the owners were unwilling to accept even these higher prices, the government stopped using this method of settlement.8

The rise of local opposition to the acquisition program seriously threatened to delay efforts by Department of Justice special attorneys to quickly bring the remaining unsettled cases to trial. Contributing to the opposition

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was the Federal District Court’s late-1942 publication in its registry of the amounts placed on deposit for advanced payment to landowners, in compliance with the declaration-of-taking procedure. Because these amounts represented a percentage of the total valuation of the tracts, the landowners easily deduced the War Department’s appraised valuation on the various tracts. The coincidence of a local political campaign provided candidates with an opportunity to promise, if elected, to secure higher prices than those established by government appraisers. Area newspapers publicized widely the appraised prices and the local politicians’ comments and, in general, were hostile to the acquisition program and its methods.9

By the end of November, many landowners were thoroughly aroused. On the twenty-third, a delegation of property holders petitioned the project manager of the CEW Land Acquisition Section, protesting the low appraisal prices. That evening more than two hundred owners met; they formed a landholders investigation committee and made arrangements to hire lawyers and appraisers so that committee members could receive expert assistance. Taking note of these developments, a Knoxville newspaper commented that “the public of course actually knows nothing in detail of the justice of the protests being made by these citizens. ... We do know that since everybody else is getting a fair price for the material and labor which will go into this Federal project, there is certainly no justification for these farmers being singled out for an economy slaughter.”10

Dissatisfaction with appraised values was not the only cause for opposition. Relocation of more than one thousand landowners and tenants with their families proved difficult. Recent TVA acquisition of much of the good river bottom farmland in the vicinity had created a shortage of available vacant farms, enhanced local land values, and forced many farm people to move. Some of the displaced farmers who had moved to the Clinton site naturally resented having to move again. Even vacant houses in nearby towns were at a premium because of the influx of construction workers for the new project. Many landowners lacked sufficient ready cash to move on short notice. The War Department had no funds to aid them and adequate assistance was not immediately obtainable from other government agencies, such as the Farm Security Administration. Even owners with financial resources found that the District’s deadlines on vacating did not give them sufficient time to hire moving vehicles, which were in short supply in the local area.11

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Rumors contributed considerably to fomenting local opposition. One persistent rumor was that the Clinton site was being acquired for the benefit of a large private corporation in flagrant abuse of the right of eminent domain. But overriding security requirements prevented District officials from providing the public with a general explanation. Thus, in an attempt to abate public criticism, Col. John J. O’Brien, chief of the CE (Corps of Engineers) Real Estate Branch, requested that the Department of Agriculture investigate the appraisal program. The department’s fact finders later stated in their report that “the general management of the project, the appraisal of the land and the approach to the landowners have been fair and just, and we do not see what would be accomplished by a reappraisal of the land.” The Engineers’ resurvey of the area had revealed, they continued, that in many instances the tracts were actually smaller than recorded in existing property deeds; that the owners had tended to overvalue their land because they were prone to exaggerate its productivity; and, because many were veterans of one or more of the five previous TVA land acquisition projects within 70 miles of the Clinton site, that they had developed “a technique of complaining” that had proved to be very effective in securing higher prices for their property.12

Meanwhile, disaffected farmers sought the assistance of their congressman, John Jennings, Jr., a Republican from Knoxville. As early as October 1942, Jennings had written to Secretary Stimson on behalf of his constituents: “I realize the necessity of the step taken but I do hope adequate steps will be taken to safeguard these people, that they speedily be paid for their farms, and every step possible be taken to see that they are relocated on farms.”13 Although the War Department promptly had assured him “that every effort will be made to preserve the interests of the landowners concerned,”14 the protests continued to increase. Feeling the futility of his earlier efforts, Jennings submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives on 1 February 1943, requesting creation of a select committee to investigate the prices offered landowners. “A large number of owners ... ,” the resolution read, “assert that the War Department has had the land appraised by nonresidents of the State of Tennessee who are totally unfamiliar with the value of such land. ... Inexpert and unfair appraisals . . are resulting in the forced sale of such land ... at prices totally inadequate to enable the former owners to acquire homes and farms of comparable value.”15

The House took no immediate action on Jennings’ resolution, and he continued to seek relief for his constituents through War Department

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channels. In late February, he informed Under Secretary of War Patterson that he was receiving numerous complaints of destruction of buildings and other facilities on the site before providing owners the usual opportunity to salvage them. Patterson replied that such salvage was not feasible because it would take too long and interfere with construction activities already in progress. Furthermore, he assured Jennings, no waste was involved because Manhattan District engineers were converting existing buildings on the site for use by the project wherever this was possible. Again in April, Jennings complained to Corps of Engineers officials that improper statements concerning landowners were being made by their personnel in testimony before the jury of view. Corps observers who had attended the jury hearings said the congressman’s allegations were not true. Finally, on 9 July, Chairman Andrew J. May of the House Military Affairs Committee, to which the resolution had been referred for review, appointed Representative Clifford C. Davis, a Democrat from the Tenth District of Tennessee, to carry out an inquiry. Davis selected Representatives Dewey Short, a Republican from Missouri, and John Sparkman, a Democrat from Alabama, as members of an investigating subcommittee and also invited Jennings to be present at the subcommittee’s public hearings.16

Announcement of the pending investigation came while the Justice Department special attorneys were pushing ahead with trial of condemnation cases on the Clinton tracts. The federal court juries, almost without exception, substantially increased payments to property holders. This seemed to further confirm the prevailing local view that the original appraisals were far too low and farmers who had accepted payment ought to be entitled to supplementary compensation. After consulting with Manhattan officials, the Justice Department decided to suspend further trials, at least temporarily, as the congressional investigation might result in a major revision of the appraisal data upon which the government was basing its prosecution of condemnation cases.17

The War Department determined to adhere to a policy of full cooperation with the congressional investigators. The ORD division engineer instructed the CEW project manager to take “extreme care ... to prevent adverse reaction because of any claims being made that the War Department is pursuing a noncooperative policy.”18 Manhattan officials did not interfere when a subcommittee investigator interviewed landowners who had written letters of complaint. The CEW project manager responded promptly to a written request from the House Military Affairs Committee general counsel for a comprehensive

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statement of its functions and activities, including a list of the appraisers who had worked on the project, together with a description of their qualifications; however, he did not release any records to the subcommittee without approval of the ORD division engineer.19

The subcommittee held two public hearings: on 11 August at Clinton, for the benefit of Roane County residents; and the following day at Kingston, for Anderson County residents. About three hundred persons, mostly land owners and their families, attended at Clinton, but considerably fewer were present in Kingston. The CE Real Estate Branch head sent his chief appraiser and an officer to represent the Engineers chief, General Revbold, at the hearing; the ORD division engineer, also his chief appraiser; and the district engineer, the CEW project manager.20

At Clinton, Congressman Jennings reviewed the history of the acquisition, emphasizing particularly the landowners’ complaints that they had been underpaid for properties taken over by the government and, as a final comment, declaring that all of his own efforts to have the War Department reconsider appraisals had been turned down “as cold as ice.”21 In subsequent testimony, War Department officials, disgruntled landowners, and project appraisal staff members asserted that appraisers had greatly undervalued most properties, failed to interview owners, and used coercion in getting stipulations. Some witnesses charged that the CEW project manager had promised owners they would have an opportunity to salvage their buildings and equipment, but they were not permitted to do this. The ORD chief appraiser took the tack in his testimony that if the appraisers and negotiators had done all that was alleged by the landowners, they were acting contrary to all instructions issued by General Reybold. He urged that the appraisers and negotiators be given a hearing, but only two witnesses representing this group were called to testify, and they both vehemently denied most of the charges that had been made against them. The subcommittee adjourned on 12 August, after hearing testimony from Anderson County owners at Kingston.22

The congressional committee did not make its report public until December. The report consisted chiefly of ten recommendations for improving War Department real estate acquisition practices, only two of which related specifically to the CEW program. The first stated that the War Department should review and make adjustments in all those cases at the Clinton site where “the landowner was persuaded, against his better

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judgment, by coercion, threat, or promise, for whatever reason or reasons, to accept less than the true value of his property.” The second recommended that “landowners who suffered losses on standing crops ... for any reason not attributable to the landowner, should be properly compensated for said losses.” The rest of the recommendations, taken as a group, constituted a critique of War Department acquisition policies in general. More care should be taken to ensure protection of landowners’ constitutional rights as guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. In ascertaining fair prices on land, the government real estate appraisers should give more attention to determining comparable land values and take into consideration all factors relating to relocation of the owner on property similar to that he had given up. To make sure that these objectives were achieved, War Department real estate agencies should employ only fully qualified appraisers and negotiators. The Corps of Engineers’ real estate manual should be revised to cover unusual conditions, such as those found at the Clinton site. Finally, no promises or commitments should be made to property holders, except where they could be made a matter of written official record.23

Save for a brief delay in prosecuting the condemnation cases, the congressional investigation interfered very little with land acquisition progress and not at all with construction of the U-235 production facilities. Nothing came of the committee’s rather severe criticism of appraisal prices, as neither Congress nor the War Department took steps to give additional compensation to landowners whose property had been acquired under stipulation agreements. By August 1944, all of the original 56,700-acre site had been acquired. As finally constituted, it consisted of 806 tracts secured by purchase, 38 tracts held under easements, and 4 tracts obtained under TVA temporary-use permits. In September, three months after closing down operations, the CEW Land Acquisition Section reopened its Harriman office to monitor the additional acquisition of approximately 2,800 acres. Needed to ensure greater security of the gaseous diffusion plant, this acquisition involved negotiations on 41 separate tracts and was not completed until March 1945.24

Total cost of the CEW real estate acquisition program cannot be determined, because project records list administrative charges as part of the overall expenditures for engineer military activities. The actual sum paid out for purchase of land and improvements, for severance damages, and for certain other nonadministrative costs totaled slightly more than $2.6 million, substantially less than the estimated cost of $3.5 million in the original directive of 29 September 1942. Of the total, the Army expended the largest part, $2.58 million, in

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outright acquisition of slightly more than 55,000 acres, purchased at an average cost of about $47 per acre.25

Los Alamos

Although the size of the Los Alamos site approached that of the Clinton site, its acquisition presented far fewer problems for the CE Real Estate Branch. Federal agencies already owned and controlled 90 percent of the land needed for the site, and for this the War Department had only to negotiate a comparatively simple transfer agreement with each agency. Furthermore, because a relatively small number of private owners held title to the remaining parcels, branch officials anticipated that negotiations with individual owners would be a far less time-consuming operation than at the Tennessee site.26

On 25 November 1942, Under Secretary of War Patterson approved a directive to acquire a site at Los Alamos “for establishment of a Demolition range.” In support of his request for approval of this acquisition, the Engineers chief had submitted data derived from two comprehensive preliminary reports – one prepared by the division engineer of the South-western Division (SWD) at Dallas, Texas, and the other by that division’s district engineer at Albuquerque, New Mexico. These reports indicated that the Manhattan Project required approximately 54,000 acres, most of it semiarid forest and grazing lands located on the east slopes of the Jemez Mountains in Sandoval County. Cost of acquisition, the reports estimated, would be small, because all but about 8,900 acres were federally owned and the grazing and forest lands were of relatively low value. The directive set the approximate cost at $440,000 and authorized the Engineers chief to finance the acquisition from available engineer funds.27

Because the process of acquiring the Los Alamos site promised to be relatively uncomplicated and speedy, there was little need for establishing a special real estate project office. The SWD Real Estate Branch in Albuquerque had sufficient staff and resources to oversee the myriad details and the district engineer had assigned one of his assistants, Maj. John H. Dudley, to coordinate and supervise all phases. Working closely with Lt. Col. John M. Harman, the Los Alamos post commander designate, the Albuquerque real estate staff took immediate steps to implement the plan to purchase

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Typical Terrain of the Los 
Alamos Site

Typical Terrain of the Los Alamos Site

the site in five separate sections (A, B, C, D, and F), which ensured compliance with the War Department’s policy of taking possession of property only as it was actually needed.28 ( See Map 5)

Area A comprised a large block of land at the center of the site, which include the fifty-odd buildings and expansive campus grounds (several hundred acres) of the Los Alamos School that the Army acquired first and had full title to by early 1943 under terms of a $350,000 direct-purchase contract. The other areas – Area E to the north of Area A and Areas B, C, and D to the south – formed a kind of security belt to protect the central facilities planned for Area A, and also assured the Army control over the scarce existing water sources.29 The largest tract in these areas comprised a part of the Santa Fe National Forest under jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. In response to Secretary Stimson’s request, Agriculture Secretary Claude Wickard authorized the War Department “to occupy and use for so long as the military necessity continues …” an area of some 45,667 acres. Colonel Harman and the Forest Service’s regional forester at Albuquerque worked out the details of the transfer, including administration or termination of any rights and privileges granted local residents and provision for management and fire protection

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Map 5: Los Alamos Site, New 
Mexico, 1943–1945

Map 5: Los Alamos Site, New Mexico, 1943–1945

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of the forests. Subsequently, the SWD Real Estate Branch secured several additional small tracts of public land to meet the project’s needs for a 25-mile power line right of way, bringing the total acquisition at Los Alamos during the war to 45,737 acres. Final cost of all property at Los Alamos purchased outright, leased, secured by easement, and otherwise acquired during the war was $414,971.30

Hanford Engineer Works

Although the District’s real estate acquisition program in south central Washington started in February 1943, adjudication of land cases resulting from it ran on for many months after the war was over.31 Legal complications, unfavorable publicity, administrative difficulties, the possibility of congressional inquiries, and the usual local opposition all threatened to frustrate the combined efforts of General Groves and the Hanford Area Engineers Office and CE Real Estate Branch staffs. Only by instituting the most vigorous countermeasures, both at the Hanford Engineer Works (HEW) and in Washington, D.C., were they able to prevent serious delays in Du Pont’s construction activities and major violations of project security.

On 9 February, Under Secretary of War Patterson approved a letter directive (dated 8 February) authorizing acquisition of more than 400,000 acres at the Hanford site. (See Map 4.) Shortly thereafter, the PD (Pacific Division) Real Estate Branch established a local project office, designated the HEW Land Acquisition Office, in Prosser, county seat of Benton County. Branch attorneys immediately requested an order of possession from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington State, Southern Division, and District Court Judge Lewis B. Schwellenbach on the twenty-third issued the order, opening the way for the project real estate office to begin collection of specific appraisal data and to gain right of entry to the site. Almost all of the land was being used for crops or grazing. More than 88 percent (about

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378,000 acres) was sagebrush range land interspersed with volcanic outcroppings, where some eighteen thousand to twenty thousand sheep grazed during winter and spring. Some II percent (almost 49,000 acres) was farmland, much of it irrigable but not all under cultivation. Less than 1 percent (under 2,000 acres) consisted of town plots, rights of way, school sites, cemeteries, and similarly used land, most of it in or near the three small communities of Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs.32

More than one-third of the Hanford area was government owned: federal government, nearly 71,000 acres; Washington State, over 45,000 acres; and five local counties (Benton, Yakima, Grant, Franklin, and Adams), about 41,000 acres. Railroad companies (chiefly the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific) owned almost 46,000 acres. More than 225,000 acres belonged to private individuals or to corporate organizations, including over 6,000 acres owned by several irrigation districts.

The overall plan called for division of the site into five areas. The PD Real Estate Branch chief designated areas A, B, C, D, and E in accordance with their anticipated use and in relation to how they would he acquired.33 Area A, a tract averaging about 14 miles in diameter at the center of the site, would be the location of the main production facilities and would be purchased outright because, for safety and security, all persons not involved in plant operations would eventually have to be cleared from the area. Area B, a safety belt averaging 4 miles in width, surrounded Area A and would be leased, with any owners who remained on it subject to eviction on short notice. Area C, two narrowly connected parcels in the southeast corner of the site constituting a protective zone for Richland, the operating village, and for the nearby support installations for the plutonium production plants in Area D, would be leased or purchased as necessary. Most of Area D, lying immediately west of the Columbia River and adjacent to the village site, would be purchased. Finally Area E, two small appendages athwart the river at the northwest corner of the site and comprised principally of lands in an irrigation district, would be acquired only to the extent necessary for project security and operations.

In one very important respect the Hanford acquisition program differed from those at Clinton and Los

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Alamos. Except for procurement of certain key tracts required for preliminary construction activities, the PD Real Estate Branch had considerably more time in which to acquire the site. In February 1943, research, design, and procurement activities for the plutonium production facilities barely had begun, and both the Army and Du Pont considered large-scale construction before summertime highly unlikely. This meant that clearing construction areas would not have to begin for a period of nearly six months. Project officials therefore decided to follow an acquisition procedure that they hoped might help limit the inevitable rise of local opposition. Branch attorneys delayed issuance of the usual declarations of taking, while HEW Land Acquisition Office negotiators endeavored to secure as many tracts as possible by direct purchase, the procedures for which had been made easier in January as a result of changes in the regulations authorizing higher initial payments to landowners. Both Justice Department attorneys assigned to the acquisition project and HEW officials were hopeful that the direct purchase procedure would result in more settlements out of court. They were also hopeful that, because direct purchase would allow farmers more time to harvest mature crops, it would counter the public criticism bound to arise from the apparent adverse effects of acquisition on the current national program for production of more “food for victory”.34

By early March, the HEW Land Acquisition Office was ready to commence with site acquisition. In cooperation with the PD Real Estate Branch and the Hanford area engineer, Lt. Col. Franklin T. Matthias, the office hired a large staff of appraisers and negotiators from nearby states, many previously employed by the Federal Land Bank at Spokane, and in April opened a branch office at Richland to ensure closer liaison with the area engineer’s staff and Du Pont officials. Matthias kept a careful eye on the office’s activities, keeping in close touch through the PD Real Estate Branch liaison officer in his headquarters. He worked zealously for more efficient management of the acquisition process, adherence to proper procedures in transfer of land to the area office before occupancy by Du Pont personnel, and just treatment for the landowners. Whenever practicable, he approved the requests from those individual farmers who had to vacate but who wanted to remain on their farms past the imposed deadlines so that they could harvest the matured crops.

The HEW Land Acquisition Office acquired the first tract on 10 March 1943. During the spring and summer, acquisition and vacating of specified areas progressed reasonably well, although in early July the area engineer had to arrange for court eviction of seven holdout landowners whose continued presence in Area A threatened project security and obstructed land needed immediately by Du Pont. In early August, General Groves, Colonel Matthias, and CE Real Estate Branch officials met with representatives of the Justice Department and,

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seeking to avoid prolonged litigations, agreed upon certain changes in acquisition plans, including a revision in procedures for procuring lands held by irrigation districts.35

But the early progress was deceptive, and the holdout and irrigation district litigation problems were straws in the wind of rising opposition. After two of the irrigation districts had initiated legal steps to secure compensation for their bonded indebtedness, they became rallying points for other dissatisfied elements. United in a common cause, the protesters joined together to complain that the government’s real estate valuations were much too low and its advance allowances to owners inadequate.36

The crucial point of disagreement between the Hanford farmers and project appraisers was the question of how much compensation the landowners should receive for the crops (cherries, apples, pears, peaches, and other kinds of fruits, as well as asparagus, mint, and alfalfa) on their land at the time of acquisition. Many owners contended that if they were not to be permitted to stay on their land until crops could be harvested, they should be compensated for them, as well as for the land itself. Because the growing season for 1943 proved to be one of the most bountiful on record, the farmers’ claims were greatly strengthened. By late spring, no longer able to ignore the crop question, the PD Real Estate Branch agreed to a proposal made by Justice Department attorneys that all tracts not yet acquired be reappraised to include crop values at the date of their taking.37

Project security and construction requirements made necessary the clearing of many of the farms before their crops could be harvested. Furthermore, on all the farms eventually taken over by the project, the Hanford area engineer had to provide for continued maintenance of the orchards and the preservation of the irrigation systems. For this purpose Matthias was able to work out arrangements for bringing prisoners from the McNeil Island Penitentiary, a federal institution located near Tacoma, to serve as a semi-permanent agricultural work force. While this saved many crops, it did not fully placate the landowners’ frustration, primarily because the government agency supervising the prisoners, the Federal Prison Industries, had no means to pay the owners the additional compensation many hoped to receive as a result of the exceptional abundance of the harvest.38

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Adding to the discontent were rumors that the War Department was using the right of eminent domain for the special benefit of Du Pont and was circulating information that cast doubt on the value of farmlands in the area. News of controversy over the Hanford acquisition program reached Washington just at the time the administration was greatly concerned about the likelihood of severe food shortages in the country. In response to an inquiry from the President, the War Department replied that the Army was doing everything possible to protect agricultural interests at Hanford and anticipated salvaging more than three quarters of the crops.39

The Military Policy Committee, meeting on 30 March, discussed the President’s concern over the possible adverse effects of the Hanford acquisition on the administration’s food production campaign and decided to address the issue. Acting on behalf of the committee, OSRD Director Vannevar Bush shortly thereafter communicated with Roosevelt “as to the need for so much land, the need for taking the town site in Richland and the effect on agriculture.”40 Bush did not succeed in ending the President’s disquietude, and when the matter came up again at a Cabinet meeting on 17 June, Roosevelt raised the question as to whether the leaders of the atomic bomb project might not consider moving the plutonium production installation to another site. The President’s query was just that, and not a directive. Political considerations may have been the pressing motivation. At the time, the Truman Committee,41 alerted by letters from Hanford area residents, was making inquiries to the War Department concerning the government’s acquisition of so much agricultural land, and congressmen from Washington State were channeling the complaints they had received on the matter to both the War and Justice Departments. Faced with having to answer to the President, Stimson looked to the Manhattan commander for an explanation of the Hanford situation. Late in the afternoon of the seventeenth, General Groves explained to the Secretary that representatives of Du Pont and Manhattan, including himself, had weighed most carefully the factors favoring selection of Hanford and concluded that it was the only place in the United States “where the

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work could be done so well.” Reassured, Stimson called the President and “satisfied his anxiety.”42

Stimson’s assurance to the President by no means ended the threat of interference in the project by other interested agencies, especially Congress and the Department of Justice. When Representative Hal Holmes, the Republican congressman in whose district the site was located, had requested information from the War Department about the project, Groves directed Colonel Matthias to supply the congressman with data sufficient to answer questions from his constituents. After conferring with Matthias, Holmes agreed to cooperate fully with the acquisition program, although he emphasized that he did not wish the impression to be given to local landowners that he favored location of the project at Hanford. While he frequently interceded thereafter with Matthias and the War Department on behalf of his constituents in the Hanford area, Holmes abided by his pledge of cooperation with Manhattan.43

Washington’s junior senator, Mon C. Wallgren, a Democrat, proved to be more of a problem. In April 1943, he forwarded to the Department of Justice correspondence that he had received from an attorney representing a group of dissatisfied Hanford landowners. This correspondence, as Wallgren undoubtedly knew it would, came to the attention of Norman M. Littell, assistant attorney general in charge of the Lands Division, the section of the Justice Department responsible for prosecution of all court cases arising from War Department condemnation procedures in land acquisition projects. Littell, who had practiced law in Seattle before his appointment to the Justice Department in 1940, was currently interested in promoting enactment of a bill he had drafted “that would provide for speedy and summary notice in proceedings to condemn property for war purposes, and to accelerate distribution of deposits and awards to persons entitled thereto in such cases. ...”44

Littell used the opportunity to promote support among members of the Washington State congressional delegation for his bill, which Harry F. Byrd of Virginia had introduced into the Senate on 7 April. On the twenty-sixth, he sent a long letter to all members of the delegation, giving extensive details about the Hanford acquisition and expressing skepticism that the War Department could keep the project secret in view of the public character of condemnation proceedings. Littell also enclosed a copy of his bill, outlining reasons why it should be enacted. The Military Policy Committee considered the security

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aspects of Littell’s letter but acceded to a request from General Styer, who undoubtedly was expressing Groves’ wishes, “that in view of the general situation no action be taken on the matter.”45

A short time later the Truman Committee, of which Wallgren was a member, exhibited an interest in the Hanford acquisition, which Littell well may have encouraged. In early June, the committee sent inquiries to the president of Du Pont and to Julius M. Amberg, special assistant to the Secretary of War. Amberg was asked to supply the committee with data on “the factors governing the choice of this location, the estimated cost of the project, the status of construction at present, and [with] suitable comment with respect to the need for such an extensive tract of farm land.”46 Responding to these inquiries, General Groves, Harvey Bundy, Stimson’s assistant, and Brig. Gen. Wilton B. Persons, the War Department’s congressional liaison officer, reached agreement that the Secretary of War should request Senator Truman to eliminate Hanford from his investigation for reasons of military security. Truman heard from Stimson on the seventeenth and, with the understanding that the Secretary would assume full responsibility for project activities, agreed to stop further investigation.47

In preparation for the condemnation trials scheduled for early fall, Colonel Matthias arranged a meeting with Judge Schwellenbach and Justice Department officials on 27 August in Spokane. Participants included, besides the area engineer and Schwellenbach, representatives of the CE Real Estate Branch and Department of Justice lawyers assigned to prosecute the cases. The group discussed a number of problems, including the possibility of arranging for partial payments to landowners and giving the Justice Department attorneys more authority to increase appraised values in pretrial conferences. Apparently no firm agreement was reached on either of these matters, but Matthias found the meeting with Judge Schwellenbach worthwhile, “as it cleared up a number of misunderstandings concerning the Judge’s philosophy and the decisions which he had been making in connection with the project.” Following the meeting, the HEW Land Acquisition Office also sought permission from authorities in Washington, D.C., to increase allowances for a large number of tracts still in litigation.48

In October, the first condemnation trial by jury began at Yakima, and additional cases followed at regular intervals through the winter season, until early March 1944. Complying with the regular court procedure in Washington State, the selected jury for each case visited the Hanford site

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to inspect the particular tract(s) under adjudication before the trial proceeding. The trial results indicate that the juries found the landowners’ claims to be just and that they consistently awarded payments greatly in excess of project appraisals. An official observer for the project attributed the higher payments to a general rise in land values in the months since the appraisals had been made, to the prevailing local prejudice against Federal Land Bank appraisers, and to the widely held belief that the project had no connection with the war emergency.49

While the Army opposed excessive payments to the owners, of greater concern was the slow progress of land acquisition during the trials. Settlements on more than 1,200 tracts averaged no more than seven cases per month. If this slow pace continued, Groves feared the essential secrecy of the project would be jeopardized, because of jury inspections in areas where construction was beginning and the inevitable public attention focused on the trials. As a way of speeding up the process, he arranged with the Justice Department for the assignment of more judges and requested an end to jury inspections.50

On 24 April 1944, General Groves, Colonel Matthias, and CE Real Estate Branch officials conferred with Assistant Attorney General Littell in a meeting at Yakima, arranged by Army Service Forces commander, Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, at Groves’ instigation. They agreed that the Justice Department special attorney and the HEW Land Acquisition Office manager together could make adjustments in the appraised value of tracts to facilitate settlement of cases out of court. They also detailed the special attorney and the manager to work out means for closer coordination between the project real estate office and Justice Department officials in Yakima. Finally, Littell assented to establishment of a second court and additional judges.51

Under Secretary of War Patterson made the formal request for additional judges to Attorney General Francis Biddle, who agreed to the plan as worked out by Littell and Groves. Patterson pointed out to Biddle that soon, because of security requirements, the Army could no longer permit jury inspections of tracts. In late May, Littell informed Patterson that he had arranged for extra judges and, provided the Under Secretary could expedite the securing of parts needed for the Yakima courtroom air conditioning system, that the trials would continue through June and July.52

In spite of these efforts to speed up the acquisition process, the results

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were disappointing. Toward the end of the summer Littell seems to have decided that faulty War Department appraisal work was at the root of the acquisition difficulties at Hanford. Consequently, he directed an experienced appraiser on his own staff to make a sample reappraisal of some of the more than 700 tracts remaining unsettled. According to Littell, the appraiser found many cases of “inadequate and faulty appraisal work.”53

After a conference with Patterson on 1 September, Littell took another step, apparently on his own initiative, to expedite the condemnation trials. He appointed C. U. Landrum as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney to conduct those cases coming up for trial in September. Littell described Landrum as “one of the outstanding trial lawyers of the country ... ,” but, at the same time, emphasized that Landrum’s assignment was not to be interpreted as an indication that the previously assigned special attorney had not done a good job in the earlier cases. Verdicts in the September trials, however, were even less satisfactory than those handed down in the preceding cases. Juries awarded payments to landowners that constituted an even greater percentage of increase over original government appraisals than those previously granted. In some instances, the payments were higher than the largest amounts demanded by attorneys for the owners.54

At this juncture, Littell wrote directly to Patterson, outlining the unfavorable trend in the recent trials. “It has been clear for some time that either the appraisals of the War Department were too low or the jury verdicts on the trial of condemnation cases were too high ... I am having a further and more extensive recheck [made] of valuations in this project and will be guided by the outcome of this work in the disposal of future cases in the Hanford Project.” In reply, General Groves and CE Real Estate Branch officials prepared a defense of the Army’s role in the acquisition at Hanford for the attention of Attorney General Biddle; however, before it was dispatched, Littell took direct action.55

On 13 October, in Washington to participate in the Democratic campaign for the 1944 presidential election, Littell suddenly appeared before the district court in Yakima and made a request to Judge Schwellenbach that no more condemnation cases be brought to trial until the Justice Department had an opportunity to reappraise all tracts upon which suits were pending. Although Groves had been alerted to the fact that Littell was making a trip to the Hanford area, his appearance before the court came as a complete surprise to project officials

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and Schwellenbach, none of whom had been notified of his intentions. Littell reviewed the history of the land acquisition at Hanford, criticizing the War Department for the piecemeal fashion in which it had taken possession of many of the tracts. This practice, he asserted, caused confusion and resentment among the owners so that an unusually large proportion of the cases had to be brought to trial for settlement. He reiterated that the major cause of difficulty was the inadequate appraisal work by the Corps of Engineers, a fact uncovered by his own appraisal expert during an investigation. He promised Judge Schwellenbach that he would expedite reappraisals and settlements at once, optimistically predicting that a majority of cases would be ready for final settlement within a month. Schwellenbach stated that he had not anticipated Littell’s motion but would take it under advisement.56

Littell’s remarks before the district court received wide publicity in area newspapers, which played up the obvious political overtones of his statement. The local press also published a considerable number of editorials and letters from readers, as well as additional reports on the condemnation cases, during the latter part of October and early November, and a major news service picked up at least one story.57

Groves, who was not informed of Littell’s court appearance until 16 October, saw the action as “obviously incompatible with essential military security, the need for which had been carefully explained to him [Littell]. His statement to the court has resulted in a considerable amount of undesirable publicity concerning a project which the President has personally directed should be blanketed with the utmost secrecy. A further unfortunate aspect of the incident, Groves noted, was that it gave the public the false impression that the War and Justice Departments were at odds on land acquisition policies, when, in reality, any differences that arose could be quickly settled by conference, as had been done at Yakima for the Hanford project in April 1944.58

Groves, now determined to take decisive action, worked closely with CE Real Estate Branch officials and Julius Amberg in preparing a new statement of the War Department’s position, which Under Secretary of War Patterson sent to Attorney General Biddle

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on 7 November. This statement emphasized Littell’s utter disregard of essential security and the one-sided character of much of his criticism of appraisal policies. It pointed out further that the War Department consistently had tried to cooperate with the Department of Justice and therefore could see no justification for Littell’s “public airing of alleged differences between the Departments in contravention of expressed executive policy.” At the same time, Groves launched a thoroughgoing investigation of the Littell incident and its aftermath of publicity. He sent his staff security officer, Lt. Col. John Lansdale, Jr., to the Hanford area to survey the situation. Lansdale submitted a comprehensive intelligence report to Groves on 10 November and took measures to curb newspaper publicity, particularly by Justice Department special attorneys.59

On 21 November, Groves dispatched a special three-man investigation team to Hanford. Heading the team was Gavin Hadden, a long-time civil employee in the Engineers’ Construction Division whom Groves had used on previous occasions as a troubleshooter. The team’s instructions were to secure “a firsthand knowledge of conditions which influenced the problems of acquisition of Real Estate at ... [the Hanford site] from February 1943 to date.”60 Yet before Hadden could submit a preliminary report, developments in the Justice Department contributed substantially to resolving the acquisition problems at Hanford. A feud of long-standing between Biddle and Littell over administration of the Lands Division had culminated on the eighteenth with the Attorney General’s formal request that Littell resign. Instead of resigning promptly, however, Littell procrastinated and took advantage of his delay to submit to the Mead (formerly Truman) Committee a list of grievances against Biddle, expressly charging maladministration of certain land cases. Finally, when Littell ignored a second request for his resignation on the twenty-second, the Attorney General solicited the direct assistance of President Roosevelt to remove Littell from office, which occurred on the twenty-sixth. At the same time, Biddle dissuaded the Mead Committee from taking further interest in the controversy. Littell thus was prevented from making political capital out of his charge that he had been dismissed for testifying before the Senate committee, and further congressional inquiries into War Department land policies, which undoubtedly would have exposed the

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Hanford project to widespread publicity, were avoided.61

With the departure of Littell there was a rapid return to normal relations between the War Department and Department of Justice in the land acquisition program at Hanford. The security problem posed by the legal right of juries to inspect properties in litigation was resolved in negotiations between Judge Schwellenbach and Colonel Matthias in March 1945. Henceforth, juries would be denied the right to inspect tracts subject to acquisition, because visits to the project site would be personally hazardous.62

By spring of 1945, settlement of those cases where outright purchase of land was necessary again attained an average rate of more than one hundred each month and continued at this pace until the end of the war in Europe in May brought a general slowing down of all acquisition activities. The land acquisition program at Hanford remained uncompleted at the end of December 1946, when the Army transferred control of the Manhattan Project to the newly created civilian agency, the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Total cost of real estate secured at Hanford by direct purchase and condemnation procedures up to that time had amounted to more than $5 million.63

Other Sites

Land acquisition was not a major activity at the many other sites occupied by Manhattan Project facilities. In most cases where acquisition was necessary, the Army usually was not as directly involved as at the Clinton, Hanford, and Los Alamos sites, although on occasion the local area engineer or the CE Real Estate Branch provided key assistance to project contractors seeking more land for their operations. Generally speaking, the major research and development programs located at universities employed existing facilities and expanded them on land already available on the campus or in nearby areas. This was true of most of the University of Chicago facilities for the Metallurgical Laboratory, although, for reasons of safety and security, the Army assisted the university in acquiring use of a small site in the forest preserve southwest of the city for the Argonne Laboratory. The University of California,

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operating under an OSRD contract, had acquired an 8.3-acre tract 2 miles north of the Berkeley campus as the site of most Radiation Laboratory activities. Other research centers, such as the SAM Laboratories at Columbia University and the Ames project at Iowa State College, used existing facilities and leased needed additional space adjacent to their campuses. For the three heavy water plants built in the United States at the Morgantown, Wabash River, and Alabama Ordnance Works, the Army’s Ordnance Department made available land already previously acquired for munitions facilities. In the case of the Trail heavy water plant in Canada, the War Department leased an area of less than an acre from the operating contractor. Similarly, at the many other places where the atomic bomb program sponsored activities of some type, the project or its contractors acquired use of whatever land and facilities were necessary to their operations.64

For the more than 500,000 acres of land that the Manhattan Project purchased, leased, rented, or otherwise acquired during World War II, it paid out a sum of about $7.5 million. There were no major instances where failure to acquire land seriously delayed progress of the bomb project, primarily because of the vigorous and alert administrative actions on the part of General Groves and a great many Manhattan District and Corps of Engineers real estate staff members and, when needed, the strong support from Secretary Stimson and other key War Department officials. Their coordinated and effective efforts directly contributed to the Army’s achievement of the essential goal of its land program: rapid acquisition of needed areas without compromising project security.