Master Cottage #1 shown in 2018, now known as the Hans Bethe House and Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery. Photo by Todd Nickols
By SHARON SNYDER
The Los Alamos Ranch School (LARS) was in its seventh year when Director A.J. Connell had a small wooden building constructed to the west of the Big House to use as director’s quarters, giving him some privacy and freeing up space in the main building.
However, there was a slight miscalculation, and long foul balls from the nearby baseball field had the potential to land on his roof. When Fuller Lodge was under construction in 1928, Connell moved to the third floor and turned over the small plank house to two young masters—Lawrence Hitchcock and Art Chase.
In 1931, during a cold winter, the wooden cottage caught fire. With nearby Ashley Pond frozen over, there was little water to fight the flames, and the structure burned to the ground. There was, however, something odd about the fire. May Connell, A.J.’s sister, noted that one corner of the house burned much longer than the rest of the building. The explanation revealed that a 30-gallon keg of corn whiskey was stored in that corner! (Prohibition was still in force but winding down, and the young men said they were aging the keg in case prices increased when prohibition ended.)
The incident made it clear that the masters and staff needed better quarters. When Connell had designed a cottage for his sister the previous year, she had insisted on a construction that was mostly stone. The result was a much more substantial building, so Connell moved away from the wooden planks and hired carpenters and stone masons to replace the burned cottage with a rustic design.
Hitchcock and Chase moved back to the Big House, and the new cottage was given to Fred Rousseau and his wife, Edna, and their three children. Rousseau was hired as the business manager for the school, a staff position much needed as the operations of the school continued to expand. Edna became the teacher for the Sandoval County elementary school, also built of logs and stone in the summer of 1931. The young children of LARS masters attended the county school with the children of staff and homesteaders on the plateau. The Rousseau’s son, Francis, became a graduate of the ranch school. The cottage built for the Rousseaus had a small kitchen, dining room, a sleeping porch, and one closet! A large basement helped with storage space.
Unlike the masters, the Rousseau family took meals at home, only joining the masters and boys in the Lodge for Sunday dinner. The Rousseau family lived in Master Cottage #1 until 1941, when they moved to Master Cottage #3 for a year before the Manhattan Project took over. On February 8, 1943, Fred Rousseau accompanied A.J. Connell as they drive away from the school for the last time.
The Rousseau’s settled in Santa Fe, where Fred helped Connell and acting Headmaster Fermor Church gather all the records necessary for the state archive.
During the Manhattan Project years, the future Nobel Prize-winning chemist Edwin McMillan and his wife, Elsie, lived in the home between 1942 and 1945. After World War II, the cottage was occupied by future Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hans Bethe and his wife, Rose, through the last months of the Manhattan Project, 1945-1946. When the Bethes left in 1946, weapons director and chemist Max Roy and his wife, Viola, lived in the home for the next 45 years, and between 1991 and 2012, the home was occupied by physicist Richard Morse.
In January of 2012, extreme winter weather caused the pipes in Master Cottage #1 to freeze and then burst, flooding and greatly damaging the interior, but the log and stone cottage survived and was repaired.
In 2013, the home was bought by benefactors Clay and Dorothy Perkins, who gifted it to the Los Alamos Historical Society to create the Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery. The Perkins were neighbors with the Agnews in California, and the donation of the house and funds for the exhibits were a tribute to a special friendship.
The log and stone Master Cottage #1 has been resilient for almost a hundred years. May it continue for many more.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the