- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) - A fallout shelter, or bomb shelter, was recently discovered under the Barton Building on Elm Street. The workers who were commissioned to replenish the sidewalks did not expect to be uncovering a chilling piece of El Dorado history. Curiosity drove employees of Mac’s Tree Service to find what was in the underground complex containing several rooms, stale scented from old files stored there when it served as an annex building.

Superintendent of Mac’s, Daniel Gilbert, was by stunned what his workers found when they dug up the pavement, the El Dorado News-Times (https://bit.ly/18mxFwG ) reports.

“When we found this place under the building, on the underside of the sidewalk, there were glass blocks, used to let natural light through the doors. In the old days, you would have walked across a glass sidewalk, over the shelter. This is why I love the downtown history,” he beamed, holding up a cell phone picture of the heavy glass ceiling they pulled out.

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The employees that discovered the shelter, and those that eventually researched more about it, were amazed. The lights were switched on and in a sea of disseminated papers, loose tiles and clouds of dust, there were gas masks scattered all around the area. Some were in boxes, others were buried under paperwork or hard backed binders. Some masks were still in their carriers, Gilbert added.

If the sight of gas masks and fallout signs were not disconcerting enough, in plain view were red binders labeled Nuclear Civil Protection and National Security Seminar that the owner of the building, Bob Brown, never noticed before. These binders contained community strategies for what to do in case of a nuclear bomb attack. The folders themselves with the emblems were ominous enough but the information contained in them showed that people were serious about a nuclear threat at one time and were prepared to take emergency action.

“We didn’t want to cover it up. It is important that this is remembered. Most people under 30 don’t even know this kind of stuff happened in their city,” said a worker for Mac’s.

Sifting through the area, and passing a few more fallout signs - the black circle and yellow triangles - there was also an old transistor radio used for signaling in the corner. It almost looked new, preserved from the elements with bright red and green knobs between a sturdy metal frame.

Other things found under the Barton building were architectural designs, plans, old computer discs, and a shard of a record that was teetering on a ledge. An observant worker discovered it when going through and saw that from the title of the record that it was actually recordings of what to do in a disaster. It read, “Let’s Talk about Protection,” in faded commercial orange.

There were many folded maps too, highlighted in red, labeled Community Shelter Plan dated, May 1972. They were dug up near the gas masks. Unrolling them, workers noticed that there were multiple sites like the Barton shelter, used for protection during the height of the Cold War. On the map, other locations some only basements or cellars, were considered places designated for fallout according to the grid.

One of these was Young’s Funeral Home numbered 37, on the map. After tracing the map to the building, an employee of the funeral home informed the News-Times that there is a dirt area that goes below the elevator shaft and is now closed off. If Young’s had served as a fallout shelter, it would have been a last resort.

Another such place may have been the First Baptist Church. It is labeled 34, on the map. A tunnel under the church that leads up to the worship area serves as a “safe place to go against storms” according to one member. It is not hard to believe that it was also a place to turn if a nuclear catastrophe emerged.

The old Arkansas Power and Light building, now called the Entergy building, which workers are renovating right now, has a place where the concrete walls are so thick it took the workers an entire day to cut through it with a special saw. Such a place is labeled on the map as number 9, and would protect against an initial blast. No gas masks or any other indication of nuclear preparation were discovered there, however.

There are many of these spots throughout El Dorado. According to the map, in the downtown section alone, there are 17 areas that were considered shelters. Some people may look at a barren basement with thick walls and have doubts. Some can make a strong complaint that a dirt cellar in a building is absolutely no proof that these areas were designated zones in case of a nuclear disaster and declared so by the city.

However, in one spot on the map, marked as 19, there is no mistaking this location was once considered a shelter. You have only to stroll down Main Street and look along the outside wall of the Federal building. Next to the door facing Main street you will see the familiar triangular fallout symbol tacked on the face of the building.

“Of all the people that have walked by, nobody has ever asked why there is this emblem near the door,” a worker said when prodded about it.

Thanks to the Barton discovery, we can now get an idea.

When going down to the basement of the Federal Building after taking an ancient elevator that still operated with liquid smoothness and efficiency, it was easy to see the concrete rooms were massive. The area was once used for storage by the post office. One windowless room was at one time closed off from the outside and served as a mail receiving room.

“These walls are at least 20 inches thick,” an employee remarked, pointing through the window where one can see an accurate angle of the girth of the concrete.

Huge pillars adorn the room strategically. The place was built in the 1930s, and if it was not constructed for the specific purpose of withstanding disasters, the haunting symbol on the side of the outer wall shows that it was considered once in an later era.

It would be a monumental task to track down all of the red dots indicating the shelters. The discovery in the Barton building proves that these magnificent old structures around the town are not just evidence of the craftsmanship of the builders, but it also shows they lived in an uncertain time where threat was imminent.

In an El Dorado Times news story dating back from May 6, 1969, the Union County Civil Defense Director Julian Hood, in response to state Civil Defense Director Eugene Talbert’s announcement that Union County had some districts where no locations were suitable as fallout shelters, lashed back and told the press that there are 6,400 spaces held within 11 buildings in El Dorado that have a protection factor of 100 or better.

Glancing at some of the hefty construction from some of these buildings it is not hard to imagine that was a truthful statement.

The story of the discovered fallout shelter will not end here. If the section proves older than the cold war era, and it is discovered that it served as a World War II shelter, there will be many agencies involved with the preservation of it and the prevention of any mishandling. For now, there is strong evidence that it was a part of the Nuclear Fallout Shelter Plans under a National Civil Defense Plan around 1972, the Nixon era.

As for now, the place is sealed from the outside. A new sidewalk is in place where once glass panels rested reminding citizens of a potential threat. But, the workers sealed it in such a way where it can be opened up and preserved. According to them, and some others that have seen it, the area needs to serve as a reminder that we still live in a dangerous age.


Information from: El Dorado News-Times, https://www.eldoradonews.com

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