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Los Alamos County And Historical Society Honored With Edgar Lee Hewett Award

on May 23, 2017 - 10:53am

County Council Vice Chair Susan O'Leary, left, and Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan with the Edgar Lee Hewett Award given by the Historical Society of New Mexico to the County and the Historical Society for outstanding service to the people of New Mexico, as related to New Mexico history. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Don Bullis, Historical Society of New Mexico board member, presented the 2017 Edgar Lee Hewett Award to Georgia Strickfaden, who represented the Los Alamos Historical Society and Los Alamos County at the presentation. Courtesy/LAC

Staff Report

Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan attended the May 16 meeting of the County Council to present the Edgar Lee Hewett Award given by the Historical Society of New Mexico to the County and the Los Alamos Historical Society for outstanding service to the people of New Mexico, as related to New Mexico history.

County Council Vice Chair Susan O'Leary accepted the award on behalf of the County.

The award was presented April 22 at the joint New Mexico-Arizona History Conference because, the Los Alamos Historical Society and its partner, Los Alamos County, have done an outstanding job in preserving key historic buildings, including Fuller Lodge and the Ranch School guest cottage; establishing an important archive; and expanding the Los Alamos History Museum, not to mention their efforts to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Nomination Letter:

Nomination of Los Alamos County and Los Alamos Historical Society for the Historical Society of New Mexico’s Edgar Lee Hewett Award

The history of Los Alamos stands out in a state renowned for its history and culture. While not neglecting the stories of the local Ancestral Pueblo people and Hispano homesteaders, it is the community’s world-changing history of the Manhattan Project and subsequent Cold War that draws visitors from throughout the globe. Over the last few years, the Los Alamos Historical Society and its partner, Los Alamos County, have made significant resource investments to ensure these uniquely New Mexican stories are preserved, protected, and communicated for our state, our nation, and our world. Therefore, I nominate the Los Alamos Historical Society and the County of Los Alamos for the Edgar Lee Hewett Award for outstanding service to the people of New Mexico as related to New Mexico history.

Los Alamos County, a municipality under New Mexico law, contracts with the Los Alamos Historical Society, a non-profit organization, for museum and archival services. The two are inexorably linked, as the following information will demonstrate. It is through working hand-in-hand that the organizations have been able to succeed in preserving and sharing these important stories.

First, in 2013, Los Alamos County, as part of its new municipal building, built a new archives facility to house the collection of the Los Alamos Historical Society. The collection contains tens of thousands of photographs, more than 1,500 linear feet of documents, and more than 20,000 artifacts—from Maria Martinez pottery to Trinitite. It had previously been housed in Fuller Lodge, an iconic upright log building of John Gaw Meem design which, while beautiful, was a terrible place for storing history. Since the move to the new facility, archival donations to the Los Alamos Historical Society have increased significantly, helping the Society to tell a more complete story of Los Alamos history. A new workroom area with large tables, comfortable reading chairs, and an inviting backdrop of historic and ancient pottery, has proved both inspiring and useful to researchers. The facility is a partnership between the Society and the County which has helps more than 200 researchers each year come to a better understanding of New Mexico history.

Also in 2013, the Los Alamos Historical Society acquired the historic Hans Bethe House on Bathtub Row. The Ranch School cottage, which had served as home to two future Nobel Prize winners during the Manhattan Project, had suffering a horrible flood from frozen pipes, which left every inch of paint peeling, every plank of the wood floor ruined, and the plaster walls and subflooring in shambles. Through a generous donor, the Society was able to acquire and restore the house. It is now home to the recently opened Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery, an expansion of the Los Alamos History Museum that delves into nearly 70 years of the post-World War II history of Los Alamos, new stories that the Historical Society previously did not have space to share.

In 2016, Los Alamos County embarked upon a restoration project for the Los Alamos Ranch School Guest Cottage, the oldest continuously used building in Los Alamos. Originally built in 1918 as the infirmary for the Los Alamos Ranch School, this building has served as a guest quarters, the favorite sleeping quarters of Gen. Leslie Groves, the home for a hotel manager, and a museum (since 1968). With all of its roles, the building had multiple additions over the years. Windows were covered with layers of paint, the building was not handicap accessible, and volunteers had to turn on nineteen light switches to open the museum each day. The County invested more than $800,000 for electrical and plumbing upgrades, ADA accessibility, an HVAC system, new interior walls, new exterior siding, restored hardwood floors, and restored historic windows. The structure is beautiful and functional.

The County has also invested nearly $4 million in the renovation of historic Fuller Lodge. Along with installing an ADA accessible elevator, the work included renovating the public restrooms, putting in a new air handling system, and upgrading the electrical systems. Most importantly, an in-fill patio was removed, exposing the historic steps of Fuller Lodge, steps that are in decades of photographs of the Los Alamos Ranch School boys. The steps also protect from rain splash the huge old-growth pines that Meem and Ranch School director AJ Connell chose for the Fuller Lodge portal, just as they were designed back in 1928.

Using the newly renovated Guest Cottage as a jumping off point, the Historical Society invested half a million dollars in new exhibits in 2016. Based on philosophies of inclusion, multiple perspectives, and multiple learning styles, the new exhibits ask visitors to think about big questions related to community, to science, and to themselves. (For example, a panel on espionage during the Manhattan Project asks, “Are you good at keeping secrets?”) The Los Alamos History Museum celebrated its grand re-opening on Friday, Dec. 30, to much community excitement and fanfare. More than 250 people packed into historic Fuller Lodge to hear the grandson of President Harry S Truman, Clifton Truman Daniel, speak to the importance of our history.

Finally, both the Los Alamos Historical Society and Los Alamos County have been instrumental in the establishment and subsequent development of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The Historical Society spent more than a decade working with the state’s congressional delegation to get the national park legislation passed. Once that was done, the county and society immediately began work with the National Park Service, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy to help shape the park. The Historical Society’s executive director has been part of the interpretive planning team for the park. Los Alamos County has donated space for a small visitors center as well as office space for the park’s interpretive ranger. The county hired a new project manager to focus solely on integrating the park into the community. It is yet another example of the Society’s and County’s historic partnership.

With more than three years and $7 million in public/private investment, the Los Alamos Historic District—its crown jewel of Fuller Lodge, its cozy and fascinating history museum, and its new national park—is well restored and ready to welcome visitors more than ever before. This has all been enabled by the partnership between the Los Alamos Historical Society and Los Alamos County, and it is an eminent part of New Mexico history, now made more accessible to New Mexicans and so many others. These efforts are deserving of the Historical Society of New Mexico’s Edgar Lee Hewett Award. 


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