Downtown Los Alamos revolves around two roads, Trinity Drive and Central Avenue. These two roads run parallel to each other and they handle a majority of the traffic for everyday Los Alamos. Our small businesses, restaurants, and some of our residences rely on these roads. When one of them requires construction, the town is thrown into an uproar because our ‘traffic’ builds up for several blocks, blocking the ease of flow for the town.
A little known fact is that these streets have been here almost as long as the town has! Granted, there have been a few bends here and there, but the overall location and direction has remained the same since the era of the Los Alamos Ranch School (1917 to 1943).
We remember the Trinity test as the changing point for the future of weapons development and the course of the Second World War. The basic details are frequently talked about; it was the first major test of the implosion design, it was successful, it occurred on July 16th 1945, etc, but the steps taken in preparation for this test are not often discussed.
A test explosion was conducted in May of 1945 at Trinity site to do a dry run with the measurement and photographic equipment. 100 tons of TNT were detonated 20 feet off the group atop of a wooden structure. The test was a success, although the explosion was about a 20th in size in comparison to the well known explosion that would take place 2 months later.
Living on the Los Alamos Plateau always brings forth curiosities, but some of the biggest ones are our local Ancestral Puebloan Sites. No matter where you are in town you will be within a several hundred-foot proximity to ones of these sites, or at least where one used to be. Excavations and preservation efforts have been conducted in Los Alamos for over 100 years.
One of the largest sites within our county is the Ancestral Puebloan Site named Otowi, also claimed to have been called Potsuwi’I which means ‘gap where the water sinks’. Acquired from some old newspaper publications, one of the first excavations of this location started in 1915 by a woman named Lucy Langdon Williams Wilson. She was the principal of a school in Philadelphia and her husband ran the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. With some basic paperwork and a 3-year governmental permit, they set out west to excavate Otowi.
This month we are exploring #InsideTheArchives to rediscover a lost Los Alamos locale: Higgins Park. Do you recognize the name? Have you heard stories of this Manhattan Project-era park?
If you have lived in Los Alamos for very long, then it is likely you have run into someone who has used a building as a landmark when giving you directions. Now, whether that building is still in existence or the business names they use still occupy the space is a different story entirely. It could be “turn by the Conoco hill gas station,” or “just past the Hill Diner,” or “where the Los Alamos Inn used to be.” Whatever it may be, landmark buildings are a guidepost for our everyday lives. This month we’re digging #InsideTheArchives to a landmark that stands at the entrance to Los Alamos, welcoming visitors and locals alike: the Hilltop House Motel.
The Hilltop House Motel was built in the mid-1970s and had significant additions, such as a restaurant, made to it in 1980–1981. The Hilltop House’s annex was added in the mid/late 1980s and was just across Central Ave. The business closed in 2013 and the building has changed hands a couple times, but remains vacant at this time.
What are your memories of the Hilltop House Motel? Did you ever stay there? Did you eat at one of the restaurants housed there (can you remember their names)? Help us bring this Los Alamos landmark to life with your stories in the comments.
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Come Inside the Archives with us this month to check out one of our most recent donations. These images are digitized copies of some of the slides donated by Betty Pickens Cabber, the daughter of Homer and Edna Pickens. Can you help us identify any of the people (or animals) in these photos?
Los Alamos has many treasured community members, one of whom is Bun Ryan (Dec. 23, 1923-Sept. 29, 2014) who was named a Living Treasure of Los Alamos in 1999. Bun Ryan is famous in Los Alamos for his fast pitches as part of the Pierotti’s Clowns, but his contributions to Los Alamos history don’t end there.
Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Elizabeth Martineau in the Victory Garden behind the Hans Bethe House on Bathtub Row. Enterprise Bank’s support helped create this garden open daily to the public. Photo by Gordon McDonough
By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
The Los Alamos Historical Society is planting a victory garden for the second year in a row, an effort that connects us to the Manhattan Project years and the World War II era. It is a living connection not only to Los Alamos history but also to our national history.
The term victory garden dates back to World War I, when Americans were asked to grow “War Gardens”, but after the war, when the government encouraged the continuation of producing food in home gardens, the name changed to “Victory Gardens”. With the advent of a second world war, the idea was resurrected.
The planning of personal gardens to help with the production of food was in full swing again by 1943, with approximately 20 million victory gardens planted. The national promotion of the gardens was handled by the Department of Agriculture, and despite the fact that most of the citizen gardeners were unskilled, they managed to raise approximately 8 million tons of food. The following year, they produced 40 percent of the vegetables grown in the United States, accounting for more than a million tons of food.
Homer and Edna enjoying a sunny day with friends at Ashley Pond. Photo by Sharon Snyder
By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
Two snowy white geese on Ashley Pond have captivated the community in the past months. The male goose, Homer, has lived on the pond for several years, but in January, an elegant companion was seen swimming next to him. She was soon referred to as Homer’s “girlfriend,” his “feathered beauty,” and sometimes “Homer’s Honey.”
Although those tributes were nice, it was clear that his lovely lady needed a name. At that point, the community gladly became involved, submitting ideas for the name. The Daily Post accepted suggestions, and two names—Edna and Marge—were the most popular. Votes were sent to the newspaper, and in the end, Edna won out.
A number of residents were disappointed, but historically, Edna was a good choice. Our geese aren’t the first couple with those names in the history of New Mexico.
In 1927, a young man named Homer Pickens traveled from the Texas Panhandle to join his older brother, Albert, at a mountain camp near Cuba, NM. Albert Pickens was a hunter and trapper and ultimately worked for the U.S. Biological Survey. In the time Homer spent with his brother, he observed and learned and eventually was also hired by the Survey.
With a secure job, Homer’s thoughts turned to a girl back home, and he asked Edna Burton to marry him. She agreed, and they rented an apartment in Roswell, where Homer was based with the Biological Survey. His first assignment after they were married took him away for two weeks. When he returned, Edna put her foot down and decreed that she would go with him when he returned to the camp. “I was going to live in the tent with him,” she recalled.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the