Interview with Lucille Knutson

Dublin Core


Interview with Lucille Knutson


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)--Social conditions.


An interview with Lucille Knutson conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy. Lucille Knutson passed away on August 12, 2017. Obituary.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Date Modified

2016-06-16: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Knutson, Lucille


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Knutson_Lucille

Robert Bauman: Yes, she was one of the first ones we had out here. Actually, it probably was in June then. She was one of the first people.

Lucille Knutson: She's quite a lady. She's a character. [LAUGHTER] We belong to the Model T Club together.

Bauman: Oh, really?

Knutson: There's where met her.

Bauman: Oh, okay, great.

Knutson: They restored Model Ts and so did we.

Bauman: That's how you got to know each other.

Knutson: Yeah.

Bauman: That's great.

Knutson: We've been good friends for 20 years.

Man one: We're rolling here.

Bauman: Ready to go?

Man one: I'll adjust this as you go.

Bauman: Okay, we're going to go ahead and get started, if that's okay?

Knutson: Okay.

Bauman: All right, so I'm going to start by having you say your name and then spell it for us.

Knutson: Okay, my name is Lucille Knutson. L-U-C-I-L-L-E. Knutson is K-N-U-T-S-O-N.

Bauman: Okay, great. All right, and my name is Robert Bauman, and today is August 13th of 2013, and we are having this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So, Lucille, let's start by just having me--I'm going to ask you to tell me about how you came to the Tri-Cities, what brought you here, when you came, that sort of thing.

Knutson: Well, in 1940, Palmer and I were married. We ran away and got married in Baker, Montana. And in December the war broke out, so anyway--or was it a year later? Anyway, there was a call for carpenters to go to an ammunition depot in South Dakota. So my husband and his brother and his father, who were all carpenters, went there, finished that job. There was a call to go on to Mountain Home, Idaho for Air Force base. They went there, and then that job was ending, and friends from there had come out here and sent us a letter because there were no telephones, no cell phones in those days, and told us to come here because there was work here. So we went down to the ration board to get gas and tires to come here, and they said, where did you hear about this place? There's nothing going on there, no jobs that are affiliated with the war. So we got the gas and tires and came here. They give us gas and tires to go home, but we came here instead. So we landed in August of 1943 in Pasco.


Knutson: Yeah, we came to Pasco. Our instructions were to go to the employment agency, so we did. Oh, my word—hot and windy, and I thought we'd come to the end of the world, when we got here. So these friends that had come previously had written to us and gave us some instructions. So we head out toward Hanford, and we come to a farmhouse called Barnett's farm. It had a big sign near the mailbox. So we turned in there and found our friends, and we never did go to Hanford to the trailer court. We stayed right there. So we had eggs and milk and everything right from the farmer, and it was perfect. We weren't out in the hot sun. It was really neat. And the fellows went to work, and we stayed here. And my son was two years old, and I was pregnant with the next one--no hospital in Richland, no hospital in Hanford at that time. So she was born in Lady of Lourdes, and Lady of Lourdes was—[LAUGHTER] well, everybody out at Hanford had to go there, the people that were having babies, and they were in the hallways. I mean, every spot was taken for those in the maternity ward. And we stayed here ‘til my husband got called to the service. So we moved to Sunnyside to be near relatives because I didn't want to go clear back to Wisconsin, where my folks were, with two little ones, so we went to Sunnyside. So he was to report at the--the buses were taking them to Spokane, and when he got on the bus, they said because he had a family at home--it was near the end of the war by that time, so he didn't have to go. So we came back to Richland to work on the plant here.

Bauman: And so what sort of work did your husband do?

Knutson: He was a carpenter, so he worked out building out there and also then started building the homes here in Richland because there was nothing here. When we came from Pasco that first day, there was a cow tethered down by Jackson's Tavern in Richland, and there was John Dam's Grocery Store and a bank and one other building. I can't remember what that was, but there were three buildings in the downtown area and a few houses where the people lived here. And this is Mr. Barnett's farm out there, he had sold it to the government but had gone to work for the government, so he got to stay in his home. So that's how come we rented space from him.

Bauman: And so you stayed there until you moved to Sunnyside. When you back from Sunnyside, where did you move to?

Knutson: By that time, we got a three-bedroom prefab. So we were in that a short time, and by then, they were trading houses. If you lived in one, you could trade it. It was before houses were sold. So we traded and got the B house that we're in now. So we've been in that house for over 60 years, but we remodeled it into a single unit.

Bauman: So you mentioned first arriving in the heat. Any other first impressions of the place?

Knutson: Oh! [LAUGHTER] First impression of this area?

Bauman: Yeah.

Knutson: It was beastly hot. It was around 100 degrees, and we knew that we were headed for our trailer court out there at Hanford, which wasn't very inviting, but we didn't have to go. But there was nothing here. I just thought we'd come to the end of the world. It was just--couldn't hardly wait for this job to get over with, so we could go home again—never, ever expecting to stay.

Bauman: And then you said your husband, after the war, was involved in building homes?

Knutson: Yes, they were building—I don't know exactly when they started building the houses here in Richland, but he built—the prefabs were moved in kind of as pre-fabricated houses, but then he worked on the other houses also. And then when the war was over and the houses were sold, he went into business, and he put basements under existing houses. So it was quite a lucrative business because everybody, every house in Richland had a half basement. So he was a busy guy. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: So you said you had one child already, and then you had a second child. What sort of community was Richland like into the late 1940s, early 1950s for you and your family?

Knutson: Well, in the '40s, when we first got here, we had to stand in line for everything--the grocery store, post office, everything. And as it was later on, the town began to develop, then there was Central United Protestant Church. I think the city fathers thought there would be one church that would serve everybody, but that didn't happen. The Catholics and the Lutherans and the Baptists, if I remember correctly, wanted their own. So they branched off from this and started their own. So schools were built. Churches were built. It really was a nice place to live.

Bauman: So you saw a lot of growth taking place?

Knutson: Oh, yes, from the original houses here in town to the houses that were built--the alphabet houses. And then, of course, later on, when everybody owned their homes, then people started building some of their own homes. But there was an awful lot of remodeling, and it begin to look like a regular town instead of a government town.

Bauman: But at some point in the 1950s, the city became an independent city, right, from the federal government control.

Knutson: Yeah, I remember our first mayor was a lady. I don't remember what her name was. But, yeah, it began to be a normal town--schools, churches, stores.

Bauman: Were you able to--did you rent your house initially?

Knutson: Yes.

Bauman: Did you have to buy it at some point?

Knutson: Yes, in the '60s the houses were sold, so you had a chance to buy your house, and we did. In fact, we bought some of the prefabs too, and they wanted them moved. So we bought some of those and moved them, set them up. I think it was in the Highlands of Kennewick. But you know, those prefabs are still standing. Some people have put basements under them. All of them needed foundations because it was temporary, but the alphabet houses were more permanent because they had basements.

Bauman: And you mentioned Central United Protestant Church being established. Do you remember when that was, around when that was?

Knutson: No, it must've been soon, and I really don't remember. But that was the first one, and then it branched off to south side and north side and the different--some were Baptists. The CUP was Methodist-based, so other denominations began to build their own. But it must've been in the '60s.

Bauman: And I imagine there must have been people coming here from all over the United States.

Knutson: Oh, of course, and when you had the termination winds, carloads of people would leave. When we first got here, we were really lucky. We had a trailer house. Because some people were living in chicken coops. Because some people were living in cardboard boxes, I mean, until the barracks got built out there. I mean, there was nothing here. So we felt real fortunate to have a house to crawl into. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: As you mention, a lot of people sort of came and then left--stayed for a while and then left, either because of the termination winds or whatever. What made stay? What made you and your family stay?

Knutson: Yeah, we stayed. We're still here.

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And was it just because your husband had employment? Is that one reason why you stayed?

Knutson: Well, we liked it, and he was busy. He worked at Hanford, building that, and then he worked on the houses here in Richland. And then when they were sold, why, he went into business for himself, so we just stayed. We like it.

Bauman: I wonder if you recall any sort of community events that happened in Richland during that time, in he '40s, '50s?

Knutson: Well, we had Frontier Days. That was the big thing--parades and celebrities coming. That was one of the things. But I don't know. You kind of had to make your own fun because there was nothing here. So we took advantage of the river. We had a boat, and we had a boat dock down at the river, and our kids grew up down there. Everybody was in the same boat. We had square dances because we had to make our own fun. And some of the square dances were held in the schools. I remember we square danced at Jefferson. And there were other square—in the '60s, early '70s, that was kind of the thing. There were square dancers all over. That's kind of faded out, but there was a big one in Kennewick that we attended. So it was kind of a do-it-yourself entertainment program. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: And what was Richland like in terms of a place to raise children?

Knutson: Oh, it was great--great place to raise kids. There was schools and churches and Boy Scouts and the river, and our kids were so busy, they didn't have time to get in trouble. And remember, this town was all young people. We all had children. We just did our own thing--our own clubs, our own—and it was great to raise kids. By that time, we had a swimming pool, and it was this time was really conducive to children, because we all had kids.

Bauman: You mentioned when you first arrived that there was only a few businesses downtown. Were there places to shop and things like that, or at what point did those things come in?

Knutson: Well, there was nothing here when we came. There was John--like I said before, the one little grocery store, and you stood in line around the block to get into the store even. And pretty soon there was—grocery stores started popping up. And the Uptown started to grow. Businesses came in. I think that was probably in the '60s also. I don't really know. But I remember a grocery store in our neighborhood over on Goethals. And then in the downtown area there was a department store. I can't remember the name of it. And a few restaurants started to happen. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Let's see, so you came in '43, so you were here then. Were you here or in Sunnyside when the war ended then?

Knutson: We were in Sunnyside when the war ended. And up until that time, we really didn't know what—the secret was really held good. We really didn't know. But the day that the war ended, the farmers came in from Sunnyside, and they threw watermelons. The downtown area on Sunnyside was just a big mess, and the armory came out with hoses to clean everything down. I mean, there was quite a celebration. Why they were smashing fruits and vegetables, I don't know, but they were. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: So it wasn't until then that you and your husband found out--

Knutson: That's when we realized what was going on out here, mm-hm.

Bauman: So when you first came here, it was something for the war?

Knutson: That's it; it was a war effort over here, but we didn't know. We suspected, but the secret was really kept really good. When we first came, when the Mountain Home job was done, friends were here. I don't know how they found out, but they wrote to us. But the Ration Board didn't know there was anything going on. It was a secret then, too. It was very well kept, this secret.

Bauman: Do you remember what your response was when you found out, or what you thought?

Knutson: Well, no, not really. It was the war effort, and it was--I remember when we first came here how angry some of the farmers and some of the people were that their farms were taken away from them and so forth, and all the promises that were made, I hope they're carried through, but--

Bauman: And I was going to ask you then, when your husband--obviously, 1943 is very early in the construction of the project and so forth, and he was working in construction, right?

Knutson: When we first came, he worked out at Hanford building that, and then he came into town to build the houses. When they realized that it wasn't going to be a temporary thing, that all these people that were here and staying needed a place to live, so they built the houses. And then, of course, when they were sold, then he stayed here and put basements under most and did a lot of remodeling, too.

Bauman: When he was working out at the site, the Hanford site, how did he get to the site? Were there buses?

Knutson: Buses, there were buses, mm-hmm.

Bauman: And did he--it was obviously a very secret sort of secure place. Did he have to have a clearance to go work out there?

Knutson: Oh, yes, he had to have a clearance, and he had a Q clearance because he was in all the areas. And later on in the late '60s, I went to work for the government. I worked at the Federal Building. I had a Q clearance also. And it was interesting; in 1969 another couple and Palmer and I were going to Europe because our neighbors that lived—he was Atomic Energy Commission--was in the embassy in Austria, and they invited us to come. So two couples of us went over there, and the Q clearance came into play because before I left, security called me and interviewed me to tell me what to do in case I got stopped over there, captured, or whatever. I didn't know anything, of course, [LAUGHTER] that was going on out--but that's how careful they were. Just let us know what to do just in case something like that did happen.

Bauman: Right, and so your job at Federal Building was with Department of Energy or--?

Knutson: No, my job at the Federal Building--there was a little post office then set up, taking care of the Hanford mail, and I was in charge of the certified and registered mail. So all of the Hanford mail came through our place before it went into the post office, I imagine, to check--another check.

Bauman: Sure, so you have been in Richland, for the most part, since 1943 other than a little bit time in Sunnyside. You've seen a lot of changes.

Knutson: Oh, yes.

Bauman: What do you think has changed the most, or what have been the most significant changes you've seen?

Knutson: What do I think--

Bauman: What do you think have been the most significant changes that you've seen since you've been here?

Knutson: Well, probably the development of the town. It turned into--we have everything we need here. We've stores, and we've taken the city, and everybody's taken advantage of the river. It's just a nice little town that's developed from all of this.

Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about, any stories you have from those early years or memories that you'd like to share that you haven't shared?

Knutson: Stories, well—[LAUGHTER] An interesting story was when it came time for this baby to be born--no hospital in Hanford, no hospital in Richland. So we went over to Hanford at Lady of Lourdes, and she was a preemie baby, so there was no way they could keep that baby in the hospital. There were babies in the hallways and everything. So the nuns gave us instructions of what to do with this tiny, little three-pound baby. So we came home, and my husband built a shelter in our bedroom made of cheesecloth with a window. And so people couldn't get to her, like relatives and friends that came to see her. And our instructions were to take care of this child with as least bit of handling as possible, because it took too much energy from her. So she grew into a—we did it. We followed all the instructions that they gave us and took care of this baby at home. But it was pioneer days, it seemed like, in those days. It was just you did the best you could with everything. And then it came time for Paul, our son, to go to school. The neighbors next door, their children were going on a bus to a Lutheran school in Kennewick. So they took him along on the bus every morning. So his first year of school was over there. Then we moved into the B house, where we are now, and he went to Jefferson then. Because the schools in those days were just barely being built, and so this was an easy way for us for him to get a good start.

Bauman: Pretty much brand new schools.

Knutson: Mm-hmm, so it's been great.

Bauman: Okay. Well, I want to thank you for coming in today and talking to me and sharing your stories.

Knutson: Well, [LAUGHTER] okay, I hope I gave some information that you could use. I don't know. I hope this fellow over here can edit this real good, so I don't look like an idiot.


Man one: Boy! I'll give you my word.

Knutson: Okay, good, make me look good.

Man one: You got it.

Bauman: Well, thanks very much, Lucille. I appreciate it.

Knutson: Oh, you're welcome. Was it okay?

Bauman: Oh, yeah, it was great, thank you.

Knutson: Okay.



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Years in Tri-Cities Area



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Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Lucille Knutson,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 21, 2024,