Monday, September 27, 2010

The Mormons on the Manhattan Project

I have always thought of the Mormon Diaspora as getting a kickstart from the Second World War. One great example of that is the LDS branch at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Oak Ridge was a town created to support the Manhattan Project. The Army Corp of engineers evicted nearly every local resident and then repopulated the town with workers for the project. Thousands of people were recruited to work on various aspects of the project. Engineers, scientists, physicians, construction workers, and various support staff. Along with these people were about thirty families of Latter Day Saints.

By April 1944, the decision was made to form a branch. Eldred G. Smith (later Church Patriarch) was the first Branch President. President Smith was hired as a self educated engineer by a company that had a contract to enrich uranium for the project. As of the writing of this post President Smith is alive and active at 103 years old. His counselors in the branch presidency were Melvin Dunkley and A. J. Carter. The Sunday School superintendent was Max R. Gilbert with Dan Drumiler and Mardee Robinson.

The first few meetings were held at President Smith’s house at 104 Darwin Road in Oak Ridge Tennessee. It was built especially for the workers on the Manhattan Project and was a type of home designated as a “Cemestos” home. Cemestos was made from cement, sugar cane fiber, and asbestos. Many of the homes at Oak Ridge were made using this material.

Guests could not enter the Oak Ridge facility unaccompanied. Sister Iva Mae Posey from Oak Ridge recalled accompanying the missionaries during one of their visits. They were stopped by the police because they were doing 50 mph in a 45 mph speed limit area. As Elder Sorensen was about to apologize, sister Posey spoke up saying “Officer, do you know who you are talking to? These are our Mormon Missionaries” To which the officer politely responded “Ma’am, they may be, but the law applies to them also.”

Other Mormons working on the project included Leo J. Brady, Major Warwick C Palfreyman, Stanley F. Fairbourne, and D. P. Anderson.

Eventually the branch was allowed to use other facilities at the Elm Grove School (at first in just an out-building called the music room, and later meeting in the school house proper). When the war ended in 1945, most of the members moved back west. With that, the branch was reduced to just five families without a branch presidency. But that wasn’t the end of the Oak Ridge Branch. Just four years later, the branch would be organized again....

6 comments:

Ardis E. Parshall said...

Watch out, we're EVERYwhere! It's fun to read about Mormons, including familiar faces, in unfamiliar places. Thanks.

Coffinberry said...

Here's your small-world moment:

Leo John Brady gave me my Patriarchal Blessing.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Ardis. You know, I had never a photo of EGS so young.

Coffinberry, wow! Where were you living when you got your PB? Is Patriarch Brady still alive?

Coffinberry said...

At the time, I was living in extreme rural Appalachia in eastern Tennessee (Hawkins County, north of Clinch Mountain). My family was assigned to the Morristown Branch, Knoxville Stake (I believe this location would be in the Rogersville Ward, Kingsport Stake now). The year was 1981, and we drove across the stake down Highway 131 to the patriarch's house in Oak Ridge.

I haven't lived in Tennessee for over 25 years now, so I really don't know if Brother Brady is still alive. I doubt it, though... my teenaged recollection was that he was pretty ancient then.

Heidi said...

Leo Brady is my husband's grandfather and he passed away about 13 years ago.

BruceCrow said...

Heidi,
Thank you for helping us out with that. This is why I like the blog format. Do members of the Brady family still live in Tennessee?