The oldest continuously lived-in house in Los Alamos, 1999 Juniper St. Photo by Sharon Snyder
By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
The oldest continuously lived-in house in Los Alamos was built on the Los Alamos Ranch School campus in 1925 and was known as the Chief Mechanics House.
It is still the neighbor of the old Guest Cottage that today houses our History Museum.
In the first years of the ranch school, three brothers from Española came to work on the Pajarito Plateau. Jim Womelsduff hired on as the school’s wrangler and ranch foreman, responsible for the entire physical plant — buildings, roads, water system, power plant, and power lines.
His brother Frank became the public school teacher, and a third brother, Floyd, hired on as the chief mechanic, responsible for electrical maintenance, automobile repairs, and plumbing.
He also drove the ranch truck to Otowi to pick up the mail and supplies delivered by the trains on the Chili Line.
With the three Womelsduff boys working at the ranch school, their mother was alone on their ranch in the Española valley. It was decided that she would sell the land and live with Floyd.
His job demanded an around-the-clock presence, so a cabin was needed near existing facilities.
Connell planned for a larger-than-usual cabin, next to the guest house, so that there would be room for Sally Womelsduff to live with her son.
It was a true log cabin with the interior walls of log while the floor and ceiling were finished wood.
There was a living room with Navajo rugs on the floor, a fire place, two small bedrooms, and a small kitchen.
Sally Womelsduff lived in the Chief Mechanic’s House for almost two decades, but shortly before the Manhattan Project took over, Sally died, never knowing the feeling of displacement that spread across the plateau. In December of 1942, the Manhattan Project took over.
The house was designated T-128 and became emergency quarters for essential personnel. Physicist Richard Feynman was one of the young scientists assigned to the small front bedroom crammed with bunkbeds.
At one time there were five men in that bedroom while another young physicist, Bob Cristy, and his wife were in the back bedroom, all sharing one bathroom. The fireplace and a small woodburning stove were the only sources of heat. Wartime conditions in the early months of Project Y were grim.
In mid 1943, new tenants moved in. A group of scientists who had worked on atomic weapons development in England arrived in Los Alamos. Known as the British Mission, the group was directed by Sir James Chadwick, Nobel Prize recipient for his discovery of the neutron. He had brought his family with him, Lady Chadwick and twin daughters.
Central heating was installed, and the Chadwicks hosted noted guests attached to the Mission, including Niels Bohr, Otto Frisch, Rudolph Peierls, and possibly Klaus Fuchs, who would be tried for espionage after the war.
Sir Chadwick spent considerable time in Washington, and it wasn’t long before Lady Chadwick and her daughters decided a home there would be much preferred.
The next occupants were physicist Robert Bacher, his wife, Jean, and their two children. Robert led the Bomb Physics Division, and Jean worked as a mathematical calculator in the tech area.
Jean Bacher admitted to enjoying the one status symbol in her home: the bathtub!
After the war, the house was assigned Capt. Gerald Tyler, post commander for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Atomic Energy Commission took over in January 1947, and the house was transferred to AEC Manager Carroll Tyler. So that he could bring some of his work home, including top-secret documents, Tyler had a hidden safe installed in the house.
Ralph Carlisle Smith, assistant director of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, moved into the house in 1957, and the house was given a street address: 1999 Juniper St. Richard and Bonnie Baker were next to live in the house on Juniper.
Baker was a chemist and head of CM-B Division at LASL, working in plutonium chemistry. He and his wife purchased the house in 1969. In the mid 1990s, Bart and Colleen Olingers bought the historic house.
They loaned it to friends who lost their home in the Cerro Grande fire and since then have used it as a dwelling for family members. Under the watchful eyes of the Olingers, the house is in good hands.
From mechanics to Nobel Prize winning occupants, all have played a role in Los Alamos history.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the