In 1913 German immigrant Franz Schmidt built a piece of military and scientific history, although he didn’t know it at the time. He built a ranch house. That ranch house, and the 640-acre ranch upon which it sat, were acquired in the 1930s by the McDonald family. In 1942 however the McDonalds were ordered out of their house and off their ranch as the land was “leased” from them and “temporarily” incorporated into the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, which would later become the White Sands Missile Range.
So much for temporary, because in 1945 the Manhattan Project came to the ranch. The water storage tank became a swimming pool for project personnel, and the house became something else altogether. It became the site of the plutonium assembly room for The Gadget, and it was a mere two miles from Ground Zero.
This plutonium assembly room was previously the master bedroom of the house. Workbenches were brought in. The former bedroom was meticulously cleaned, and then sealed off with plastic and tape to prevent dust contamination. Signs were posted admonishing all who entered to wipe off their shoes.
Despite being only two miles from Ground Zero the McDonald Ranch House suffered very little damage, mostly broken windows. The damage came later as the house fell into neglect and disrepair.
Alas, the ranch was never returned to the McDonalds. Even though the force lease ended in 1980, along with the payments being made to the McDonalds, the land was not returned to them. But if the government thought it was going to end there, they were wrong. In 1982 David McDonald and his niece staged an armed takeover of the ranch house.
In the end the armed standoff ended after only three days, and the McDonalds were finally compensated for the loss of their ranch, but not by much. The ranch house, land, related structures, and grazing rights were valued at around $1,600,000. The McDonalds walked off with only $60,000 in their pockets.
The ranch house has been restored and is today under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
Here are some more ranch views including the bunkhouse, livestock pens, and the Aermotor Windmill tower: