|By October of 1942, it had
become increasingly evident, from the progress of experimental
developments supervised by the Manhattan Engineer District at its other
installations, that the immediate establishment of an additional
research site was necessary for solution of specific problems in
production of a nuclear weapon. The purpose of this new
installation was the development, final processing, assembly, and
testing of the atomic bomb. The contemplated scope of this part of
the Manhattan Project was great enough to justify a separate title;
accordingly, it was named Project Y.
Because the new Project was to be the most secret of the entire
Manhattan Engineer District program, isolation was perhaps the first
requisite for the site. However, many other factors had to be
- The area had to be large enough to provide an adequate testing
- The climate had to be such that outdoor work could continue
throughout the winter months.
- Access by roads and railroads was necessary for moving in
extraordinary amounts of personnel and material.
- Sources of construction materials had to be near enough to keep
costs reasonably under control.
- The population within a 100-mile radius of the site had to be
sparse, to maintain both safety and security.
- Utility facilities, including power, water, and fuel supply had to
be available or conveniently developable.
- Housing facilities had to be present to quarter at least the first
- The ownership and estimated value of the land and speed of
acquisition had to be considered.
- Soil characteristics, timber density, and type of terrain also had
to be carefully investigated as the basis for future construction.
- The location had to be remote from all sea coasts, as the
possibility of enemy attack still had to be considered.
The U.S. Engineer Office and Real Estate Sub-office in Albuquerque
surveyed several areas in New Mexico for this site using these
requirements as a baseline. Their reports show the emphasis placed
upon all of these points.
Sites at Gallup, Las Vegas, La Ventana, Jemez Springs, and Otowi, New
Mexico, were surveyed. After careful investigation, the first 3
locations were rejected as failing to satisfy the established
requirements. Then more detailed reports were made for Jemez
Springs and Otowi.
The Southwestern Division Real estate Branch made a
preliminary report on the possibility of locating the site at Jemez
Springs, in November of 1942. All pertinent factors, such as water
supply, housing facilities, access by road and railroad, ownership, and
estimated value were considered. A further report, by the U.S.
Engineer Office in Albuquerque, NM, covered in more detail the buildings
around Jemez Springs which could be utilized for housing, and considered
the sources and costs of construction materials, climate, labor supply,
recreational facilities, population within a 100-mile radius, fuel
supply, medical facilities, and the steps necessary to acquire the land
for the proposed site. Had Jemez Springs been selected, 70% of the
housing for the immediate needs of the Project would have to be
built. This report included no recommendations, because the
specific purpose of the site was unknown to the office making the
In November 1942, the Manhattan District authorized the
Albuquerque Engineer District to conduct a site investigation in the
vicinity of the Los Alamos Ranch School in Otowi, New Mexico.
Reports comparable to those submitted on the proposed Jemez Springs were
prepared. The fact that the existing Los Alamos Ranch School
buildings could be used for immediate housing was a primary factor in
the recommendation of the site. Further, Otowi was more
accessible, had a better water supply and lower valuation, and lay in
amore sparsely populated area than Jemez Springs. All of these
advantages plus the following favorable points could not be readily
- Most of the area (some 47,000 acres of the estimated 54,000
required) could be obtained easily because it was already owned by
the Federal government.
- The private portion of the land was used mainly for grazing so the
purchase price would be relatively small.
- There was enough area available to ensure safe spacing of the
various Project units.
- The nearest town was 16 miles away, which tended to isolate the
- The area was located on a mesa, making entrance to the site easy
- The main site area was relatively free from timber, and would
necessitate little clearing.
Representatives from the Manhattan District, the Albuquerque
District, and the Southwestern Division Real Estate Branch met in
November 1942 at the Los Alamos Ranch School to consider that location
in detail. The choice of the site was also discussed with Dr. J.
Robert Oppenheimer, Project Director, and members of his staff, for
further confirmation of its desirability. After careful
consideration of all the cumulative reports and recommendations, Major
General Leslie Groves determined that Project Y would be centered at the
site of the Los Alamos Ranch School in Otowi, New Mexico.
After the final selection had been made, Lt. Col. J. M. Harman was
designated as the Commanding Officer. The University of Southern
California was also selected as the Operating Contractor to oversee the