On June 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Atomic Legacy Cabin, a new interpretive center located at the DOE Grand Junction, Colorado, office. The cabin once was the epicenter of the nationwide search for uranium that was started by the Manhattan Project and later escalated during the Cold War.
Delivering the keynote address, LM Deputy Director Peter O’Konski shared the historical significance of not only the cabin, but also the specific day in history: June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord — more commonly known as “D-Day” — when the Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, in 1944 and battled against German occupation.
The historic nature of the site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a consistent theme during the event. The family of Samuel Billison, who served as a Navajo code talker and was critical to the Allied victory in Battle of Iwo Jima, attended the event. Also in attendance was Bill Babbel, son of Gordon Babbel, the famed inventor of the Babbel Counter, which was used for surveying and identifying uranium. Historic exhibits in the interpretive center reference and honor the contributions of Billson, Babbel, and many others.
“In addition to being stewards of the environment, LM strives to be stewards of history — and this is history coming to life,” said O’Konski.
In 1943, Second Lieutenant Philip Leahy, under secret orders, travelled to Grand Junction to develop a domestic uranium procurement program as part of the Manhattan Project. Under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Manhattan Engineer District, Leahy procured a 55-acre gravel pit located near the Gunnison River.
The original log cabin located on this site later became the base of operations for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Colorado Raw Materials Office, which was the regional epicenter of uranium mining and processing that characterized the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
During the aftermath of the Cold War, former uranium-processing sites were remediated and repurposed. In 2001, DOE transferred ownership of 46 acres of the original 55-acre Grand Junction site to the Riverview Technology Corporation (RTC), a business-development nonprofit sponsored by Mesa County and the city of Grand Junction. The site is now home to the award-winning Business Incubator Center, a nonprofit that supports the launch and growth of businesses by local entrepreneurs.
RTC, DOE, and associated stakeholders partnered to renovate the cabin for historical purposes. RTC and Business Incubator Center Executive Director Jon Maraschin highlighted the substantial efforts and public-private partnership necessary for this project to come to fruition.
“It was quite the Sisyphean task,” said Maraschin.
Not all contributors to this project could attend the ceremony. Leahy, who passed away in 1996, was represented by his daughters, Sharon Leahy-Bachochin and Linda Dierks. In a heartfelt speech, Leahy-Bachochin shared her memories of her father.
“My father would be particularly pleased that the cabin will have a second life as a museum,” said Leahy-Bachochin. “It will be an asset to Grand Junction and the state of Colorado for educational purposes — a place to explore and understand the milling and refining that helped end World War II.”
Respect was also paid to Bill Chenoweth, a former AEC and DOE employee of 30 years. Though a geologist by trade, Chenoweth worked tirelessly to preserve the history of the site and his interactions with Leahy. Chenoweth died in 2018. Also honored during the event was Richard “Dick” Dayvault, a 35-year contractor to DOE, who also played a significant role in the historical preservation for the site. Dayvault passed away in 2015.
Following the speeches, the official ribbon cutting took place. A reception and open house followed. Approximately 160 people attended the event.
The Atomic Legacy Cabin is open to the public on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available upon request. Email AtomicLegacyCabin@lm.doe.gov for more information.