Richland group plans busts to honor colonel who built Hanford

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RICHLAND — Franklin T. Matthias was a young officer working at the Army Corps of Engineers' Washington, D.C., headquarters when scientists hundreds of miles away at the University of Chicago created the world's first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

In less than a month, Matthias was soaring over the villages of Hanford and White Bluffs in a military observation plane, scouting locations for what would become the most massive construction project of World War II — one that drew thousands of workers to the Mid-Columbia and altered the region's landscape and its future irrevocably.

The world's too.

Before the plane touched back down, Matthias knew he had found the site. Not long after, Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, tasked him with managing construction.

Today, a sprawling park along the Columbia River in Richland bears Groves' name. But what about Col. Matthias, the man who built Hanford?

A new public honor is in the works, thanks to some Richland residents.

The woman behind the Historic Streets Project in Richland is coordinating the creation of a pair of busts of Matthias. "He was the only one who never got any notoriety. We thought, 'we better give credit where credit is due,'" said Karen Miles, who's working with AMVETS Post 397 on the project.

Two artists are creating the busts.

Maynard Plahuta, president of the B Reactor Museum Association, said Matthias deserves recognition.

"It's almost mind-boggling when a guy can get all that accomplished under the gun," Plahuta said. "There's some great, great effort that he put forth."