Fermilab heritage

Before there was the National Accelerator Laboratory, there was the subdivision of Weston, Ill. This area is now part of the Fermilab site. Photo: Fermilab

Ever wondered why farmhouses and barns are part of the landscape at a physics research lab such as Fermilab? Well before there was an energy, intensity or cosmic frontier, there was an agricultural frontier, and before there was a Fermilab, there was a farming community.

Recently, the ESH&Q Section commissioned the development of an Archaeological and Architectural Assessment of Historic Properties within Fermilab. It will provide an overview of historic properties, including archaeological investigations and background research on structures built during the farming days, as well as an architectural assessment of those historic properties with standing buildings and structures.

For Weston, Ill., history changed course on Dec. 16, 1966 when it was announced as the winner of a national competition of states proposing to be the location of the future National Accelerator Laboratory, home to a 200 billion-electronvolt high-energy physics research machine. Then in 1967 the state of Illinois began to acquire the real estate, including the farms of the current Fermilab site and the small subdivision of Weston (see aerial view above), which it then donated to the Atomic Energy Commission for the laboratory. In this process, 56 farm families, in addition to the residents of Weston, were displaced from their homesteads.

At the time, founding Director Robert R. Wilson hired the joint venture group of Daniel, Urbahn, Seelye and Fuller, or DUSAF, to assist with the design of the laboratory. DUSAF produced a document titled Plan for Existing Buildings on the NAL Site near Batavia, Illinois on Aug. 15, 1968, as part of the laboratory master plan; this document has since been referred to as the “Farm Book” (see the Fermilab History and Archives Project page for more information). Architects employed by DUSAF conducted an informal “historic and visual-structural” evaluation of most of the buildings, incorporated findings and retained the numbering system of an earlier July 1967 report by Bryant Lemon titled Preliminary Survey of Existing Structures on Weston Site. These site numbers are still used today and have become a part of each site’s identity.

ESH&Q commissioned the architectural assessment because most, if not all, of the 350 buildings and structures (77 farms) present on the parcel when the state of Illinois purchased the individual farms that now make up Fermilab are at least 50 years old, and this is the minimum age for consideration for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Currently only Site 29 (the director’s house), Site 58 (the oldest intact farmstead within Fermilab), the Site 65 barn (banked barn known as “Hawks Barn”) and the Site 67 barn are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places based upon architectural merit.

Teri Dykhuis is the NEPA and cultural resources (including historical properties) coordinator.

These sites are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Top row, from left: Site 29, Site 58. Bottom row, from left: Site 65, Site 67. Photos: Fermilab