I eventually came to understand that my grandparents had farmed near White Bluffs. And that they had to leave. And that leaving was not something they chose to do.
But the name White Bluffs was still a mystery to me. I only knew it made Grandma sad.
When I got a little older, I tried to find White Bluffs on a map of Washington. It did not exist.
At some point, probably well into adulthood, I put it all together. I had asked enough questions and done enough reading on my own to figure out the mystery. This brief history is probably still not fully accurate, but this is what I've pieced together thus far.
Milwaukee Road ran through White Bluffs providing residents the goods they needed and taking away the literal fruits of their labors.
According to the U.S. Government's Hanford history page
Hanford and White Bluffs epitomized the early American West. Farming and agriculture were the dominant industries in these little towns, even though the area receives just seven inches of rain a year. An early irrigation system provided water from the Columbia River to orchards and field crops, and fruit ripened more quickly here than in any other part of the Pacific Northwest. Small, family-run stores and other businesses began to open after the turn of the century, and some of the earliest automobiles could be seen on the dirt streets of the communities. A ferry docked near White Bluffs and shuttled passengers across the Columbia River. A railroad called “Sagebrush Annie” carried riders between Hanford and White Bluffs. Children attended schools in both communities and White Bluffs even had a weekly newspaper.The worst years of the depression were finally over and things were looking up.
Then came the announcement. I suppose it was a letter, but that is not clear from the history I can find. Perhaps it was just a public announcement through posters and newspapers.
The government needed the land for the war effort. Most residents had only 30 days to get off their land. Some residents were given only a couple of days to two weeks to leave.
As part of the Manhatten Project, the government needed a site well away from major cities and transportation centers, and yet near a plenteous supply of clean water. It was here in the area around the towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, that the Federal Government chose to process the plutonium needed for the nuclear program. The government used their power of eminent domain to take the land from the local people.
The Hanford site continued into the cold war as the primary plutonium processing facility in the United States. Currently there is one power plant still in operation there.
Because nuclear science was in its infancy during the early years at Hanford, the area has very high levels of radioactive waste. Clean-up is ongoing.
I have an uncle on my mom's side of the family who ranched and raised his family within a few miles of the borders of Hanford. Uncle Max passed away last year on my birthday. He had lived into his 90s.
Several years ago, I asked Uncle Max how he felt about the reports of the high levels of radioactive waste that were alleged to be slowly leaking into the area. Max replied that he never worried about it too much. This was his home and he farmed it the best he could and that was all he could do.
But he also said that the plutonium made in that facility probably saved his life. You see, Uncle Max was fighting in World War II with the US Navy in the South Pacific. Uncle Max had always figured, based on the rumors that were going around at the time regarding the plans for the ship he was on, that he and many others would not have come home alive were it not for the nuclear bombs.