The forgotten story of Uravan, Colorado

URAVAN, Colo. — Far away from Hiroshima, Japan — far away from anything really is a stretch of land off Highway 141 in Southwest Colorado.

Still in 2019 – there is no cell phone service.

And it’s underneath this tattered American flag you find the seemingly forgotten town of Uravan, Colorado.

“There is not even a trace of any town being here,” Jane Thompson, who grew up here, said.

“Our house that we lived in right across the river is here right where this pile of rocks is,” Thompson said.

But this town isn’t just another abandoned mining town; it has a unique place in American History.

“This is where the Manhattan project was; this is where two mills were built on this side of the road,” Thompson pointed out.

You see this small, seemingly unimpressive site played a role in making the bomb that eventually dropped in Hiroshima.

Some of the uranium used in the Manhattan project – which was the top secret government effort to develop the bomb – was mined and milled in Uravan.

Pictures from back then show just how vibrant a community this was unknowing participants in one of the greatest government secrets.

“They didn’t know why they were here but they knew they were here to bring the boys home from the war,” Thompson said.

Thompson says remarkably no one knew exactly what they were doing.

That is until after the end of the war and the destruction of Hiroshima

“Until that bombed dropped and the war was over they didn’t realize how much they had been a part of history,” Thompson said with great pride.

While there was happiness here initially turns out the work here would lead to more than just the devastation of Japan…mining the materials for the bomb would lead to the devastation of Uravan too.

“The communities like Uravan, the men and women that  worked there, made a sacrifice for the success of the United States in World War II,” Padraic Benson, a historian and analyst with US Department of Energy’s Grand Junction office said.

“Benson says  in the 1980s the federal government realized the mining and the milling was making people sick and they decided to burn Uravan down, burying it in soil and fencing it in.

Congress eventually passing laws to compensate the sick and the dying.

“It was an apology to uranium workers and those that suffered illnesses,” Benson added.

Nowadays the question is how should Uravan and other towns like it be remembered?

The US Deparment of Energy will open in the coming months a cabin to honor the regions rich mining.

As for Jane Thompson she is determined to keep Uravan’s history alive with school field trips and a campsite called “The Ballpark” where families of those forced to move have donated picnic tables and placed plaques.

One reading: “Let us not forget our roots and the town we hold dear…Uravan, Colorado”

Just because its all gone doesn’t mean it never happened,” Thompson added.

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