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The city of Richland is full of history — maybe not like European capitols or even east coast US cities that are 250+ years old, but if you are looking for Manhattan Project history, Richland is YOUR town!

Our team had the pleasure of learning a ton about Richland’s history a couple weekends ago when we took part in a walking tour of Richland’s “alphabet houses.” These are the homes that the US government started building in 1943 to house the thousands of workers that were brought to the area to work on the Manhattan Project.

richland alphabet homes walking tour 1

These homes needed to be built quickly, and as a result, the architect they hired to design the houses — Spokane’s Albin Pehrson — had just a few days to decide if he wanted the job. He took it, and just a couple months later, the first home was being built … an “A” duplex. There’s no special meaning behind the lettering; each floor plan was named after a letter of the alphabet. As a result, they’re called “alphabet houses.”

The tour we went on took place as part of the Northwest Anthropological Conference, and our guides were Robert Franklin from WSU’s Hanford History Project and an associate of his; I believe her name was Stephanie. (If anyone can confirm, please let me know — I’d love to credit her by name!)

We were in a group of about 15-20 people who took the tour. We met near the Spudnut Shop and learned a lot about the history of the Uptown Shopping Center — how the government built it because the new residents needed things to do and places to shop. From there, we walked west for about two miles roundtrip and saw numerous types of alphabet houses up close, plus some commercial buildings that date back to the same era. It was fascinating! We learned a lot about Richland’s history and these unique homes. (Did you know that the reason so many homes on street corners were built at an angle was to protect privacy and to give the homeowners a larger, more attractive front yard? That’s one of the many interesting things we learned on the tour.)

Here are some photos to give you a sense of what the tour is like.

richland alphabet homes walking tour 2

richland alphabet homes walking tour 3

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richland alphabet homes walking tour 7

richland alphabet homes walking tour 8

We’re excited to encounter our next alphabet home buyer or seller, now that we know so much more about the houses! If you get a chance to do this tour, we highly recommend it.

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Cari McGee

Hi, I'm Cari McGee. 👋 I've lived in the Tri-Cities since 1994 and I've been a licensed Realtor® since 2004. That's a lot of local knowledge and real estate experience that I put into every article you read on my website! We've helped more than 560 families buy or sell property in the Tri-Cities. In 2023, our community voted us the bronze winner for Best Real Estate Team in the Tri-Cities Best voting. Learn more about me by clicking the link right above. And if you have any questions, get in touch anytime!

7 Comments

  1. Our family lived in one of the ABC duplexes and brother and I attended an elementary school very close by.  We then moved to a home in North Richland next to John Ball Elementary school.  Dad was a superintendent and was one of reason we had a home.  They were adding 2 reactors at the time to Hanford.

    1. Wow, Alice! Thanks for sharing your experience with the alphabet homes. Sometimes as I drive through Richland, I try to imagine it as it was back then. It’s not too hard in some areas where the houses haven’t changed much.

  2. We went to Lewis and Clark Elementary and then moved to a single house in North Richland. 
    I remember being in the Brownies.  That was a long time ago.  So some of the houses are still being lived in.  That is amazing.  Do you know what happen to the houses in North zrichland by John Ball School?

  3. I grew up in a converted “A” house. It was converted to a single family home. The block we lived on still has the “A” duplexes. A few of my family members still live there and it has been the hub for our family over the many years since we moved there in 1974. I went to Spaulding school for kindergarten and Christ the King through 8th grade.

    1. Oh, wow!  I love to hear from people who grew up in the original floorpans, or the converted ones. How neat to have lived in a part of history!

  4. Love to see info about Richland history (I lead Richland Walks programs for the city’s Parks and Rec)

    – one correction to your page – the architect’s name was Pehrson not Pherson.

    1. Thanks, Nancy! We appreciate that correction. Richland history is so fascinating, I love learning more and sharing what we know. Your job sounds great for that, too.

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