Los Alamos Ranch School

Los Alamos Ranch School

A. J. Connell (left), who served as director of the Los Alamos Ranch School. Photo courtesy the Los Alamos History Museum Archives.

Ranch School Days

Aerial view of road to Los Alamos.

Choosing Los Alamos

  • Ranch School Days

    Ranch School Days

    Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan describes Master Cottage Number One during its Los Alamos Ranch School days, when the school’s director, A. J. Connell, lived in the home. Physicist Stirling Colgate, who attended the Ranch School, shares his memories of Connell.

    Narrator: A. J. Connell, the director of the Los Alamos Ranch School, was the first person to live in Master Cottage Number One after it was built in 1931.

    Heather McClenahan: This is Master Cottage Number One, also known as the Hans Bethe House. It was originally built for the Ranch School. In fact, this is the second building that was on this site. A. J. Connell lived here when he was Director of the School early on. Then when Fuller Lodge was built, he moved to a set of rooms on the third floor.

    A couple of young masters were living here. The building caught on fire. When A. J. rebuilt the building, he did have it built out of stone, and it was just a little stone rectangle.

    Narrator: Stirling Colgate was a student at the Los Alamos Ranch School before the arrival of the Manhattan Project.

    Stirling Colgate: The boss man, A. J. Connell, extraordinarily able man at running the school. He had been a forest ranger or something like that, and rose to the top of that, and then managed the boys’ school.

    He was just an extraordinarily able man with boys and students and so on. He just made us all feel that everything we did was our own responsibility—learning, as well as all our relationships and everything else.

  • Choosing Los Alamos

    Choosing Los Alamos

    Physicist Edwin McMillan recalls accompanying J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves to select a site for the Manhattan Project’s top-secret scientific laboratory.

    Narrator: Physicist Edwin McMillan and his wife Elsie once lived in Master Cottage Number One. In 1942, McMillan was working at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, when J. Robert Oppenheimer invited him along on a trip to select a site for the Manhattan Project’s top-secret scientific laboratory.

    Edwin McMillan: There were certain requirements for a site. It had to be far from the borders of the United States, and it had to be in an area not close to highly built-up areas, mainly for security reasons. Didn’t want to have the scientists mingling with a lot of townspeople and gossiping about what they were doing.

    Many places were looked at. Colonel [John H.] Dudley said that he visited most of the small towns in the Southwest. He said he traveled thousands of miles on two-lane roads—one lane for the left wheels and one lane for the right wheels.

    Well, this site search headed up. Colonel Dudley had decided, on the basis of the criteria and what he had seen, that the best site was Jemez Springs, New Mexico. So, it was arranged that Oppenheimer and I were to go to Jemez Springs.

    Well, soon as [General Leslie] Groves saw it he didn’t like it. There was no argument there. Groves said, “This will never do.”

    At that point, Oppenheimer spoke up and said, “If you go on up the canyon, it comes out on top of the mesa and there’s a boys’ school there, which might be a useful site.”

    We all got in cars and went up to Los Alamos Ranch School. I remember arriving there. It was late in the afternoon. There was a slight snow falling, just a tiny drizzly type of snow. It was cold. And there were the boys and their masters out on the playing fields in shorts. This is really a place for hardening up the youth.

    Soon as Groves saw it, Groves said, “This is it.” 

Quick Fact:
The Los Alamos Ranch School was established in 1917. In 1942, the Army purchased the property and land from the school for a top-secret project. In early 1943, Manhattan Project scientists and their families began to arrive.