From a soggy bog to a beloved community gathering place, the change and continuity of Ashley Pond illustrates the many eras of Los Alamos from homestead to Ranch School to government laboratory to the vibrant community of today.
Although Ashley Pond is now a prominent green space in the center of Los Alamos, it had a less majestic beginning. In 1908, it was a soggy depression used by homesteader H. H. Brook for watering his stock. Later, the Los Alamos Ranch School used it for the same purpose. Its applicable, albeit unimaginative, first name was the Stock Watering Tank. This was later switched to the Duck Pond in honor of its most popular visitors. The waterhole continued to remain a relatively unimpressive morass until the Ranch School built a dam in Los Alamos Canyon in 1923. This created a small reservoir which fed a pipeline to provide the school with water. The overflow from the pipeline was then dispersed into a puddle which progressively grew into a pond and then a small lake.
The all-boys Los Alamos Ranch School was founded in 1917 by Detroit native, Ashley Pond Jr., who created it to generate tough, intelligent, well-rounded, and experienced outdoorsmen. As such, the students were encouraged to utilize the beautiful landscape for recreation and exercise. The pond provided an ideal place to put their learning into practice. Although never deep enough for true diving, the pond was perfect for canoeing and an excellent place to practice swimming. In the winter, the boys skated across its frozen surface playing hockey and harvesting the ice for the coming year. Ice blocks were stored in a nearby stone ice house and they were known to have collected enough ice to sustain them for up to two years. Once sufficiently filled, school faculty member—and notorious lover of puns—William Mills, provided the name of Ashley Pond in honor of the founder. The official title for the pond is Ashley Pond, not Ashley Pond Pond, but today Los Alamos natives enjoy the humorous anecdote.
When the United States government acquired the land for the Manhattan Project, they allowed the school two months to make other arrangements. The boys went through a hurried graduation and left their beloved mountains, mesas, and pond in the hands of scientists. Manhattan Project staff built the Technical Area, also called TA 1, around the south side of Ashley Pond as a safeguard against fire. They repurposed the ice house as well, using it in 1945 to assemble nuclear components of the “gadget” which would be tested at Trinity. As such, Ashley Pond became restricted under laboratory security and very few outsiders were able to enjoy it.
Today, Ashley Pond is a pleasant downtown landmark of Los Alamos. Situated near the center of town, it is used for picnics, walks, and outdoor concerts in the summer. Los Alamos natives attentively watch the ducks and geese who live at the pond, especially during chick season. During the winter, surrounding trees are decorated with colorful Christmas lights. The local winter parade currently ends at the pond, the same place where the Ranch School boys canoed and harvested ice nearly a century ago.