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The lost town of Alvira – The sad story behind the abandoned Bunkers of Alvira

October 2019

About four miles north-west of the Borough of Allenwood, Pennsylvania, is the Town of Alvira. Now a ghost town, this once bustling community is now known as the home of the United States federal prison, Federal Correctional Complex, Allenwood. For urban explorers, there is a different reason to go to this deserted town: the Bunkers of Alvira.

Back in 1942, the United States government expropriated through Eminent Domain all property within the Town of Alvira, established in 1825 as Wisetown and re-named in the 1860s, for use as a munitions depot. Residents were told at the time that they would be able to re-purchase their land when the war was over.

At the time, Alvira included schools, a gas station, a blacksmith shop, and a church, along with other businesses, and a population of around 400. All residents were given just six weeks to vacate their homes.

All homes and commercial buildings were torn down, except the Christ Lutheran Church, also known as the “Stone Church,” where the residents learned the fate of their town, and a munitions factory was built, along 17 miles of railroad track, 55 miles of roads, 300 support buildings and 149 domed earth-covered bunker magazines to store tons of explosives.

The magazines were built as igloo-shaped buildings with thick walls that were designed to explode upward in the event of an accidental explosion.

Pennsylvania Ordnance Works, a TNT manufacturing plant operated by U.S. Rubber Co. for the government.

Known as the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works, the plant was operated by U.S. Rubber Company on behalf the U.S. government. The explosives plant opened in May 1943, but it ultimately had a very brief life and was shut down just eleven months later when the need for TNT had diminished.

After the war, the depot remained in use by the United States Army for testing and re-named Susquehanna Ordnance Depot, despite a promise by the federal government that the former residents could buy their property back for the same price as sold.

In 1950, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was given 4,000 acres that included the plant site for construction of the Allenwood Prison, while the remaining 3000 acres that included the land where the magazines sat were given to Pennsylvania for use as State Game Lands in 1957.

The Williamsport Area Community College, now known as the Pennsylvania College of Technology, opened a campus on the remaining 400 acres of land.

All that remains of Alvira are Christ Lutheran Church, three cemeteries and various house foundations. Christ Lutheran is now within the Allenwood Federal Prison and is used by the inmates. The cemetery is well maintained and is accessible only to family members of those interred in it.

Nothing remains of the munitions plant or its support buildings. The only structures remaining are the munitions magazines, though as sturdy as the day they were built, are slowly being swallowed up by trees and vegetation. Most are sealed shut, but some are accessible.

While the bunkers can be found throughout the game lands, the best place to start is from a parking lot along Alvira Road, adjacent to bunker #1. From this parking lot, there are several gated dirt roads that are now used as walking trails in the state game lands. The bunkers can more quickly be reached by taking the road to the right.

Approximately 400 acres were given to the former Williamsport Area Community College, now the Pennsylvania College of Technology, on which it built its earth sciences campus.

Two of the three cemeteries can be found 1.5 miles further east along Alvira Road, the first right beside the road on the south-side.

The second cemetery that is still accessible to the general public is along a short trail leading northward from the road, near where the road ends at the gate to the Allenwood Prison. This is the original cemetery for Alvira.

The Union County Historical Society has occasionally arranged for guided tours to see the remaining building foundations and the cemeteries along Alvira Road.

An interesting theory as to why residents weren’t allowed to buy their land back after the war came to light with the release of a Energy Department memo dated 29 May 1987, which revealed that between 1943 & 1944, 100, 000 lbs of radioactive uranium 234 metal turnings, waste from the infamous Manhatten Project were stored at the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works, specifically in magazines 112, 120, 137 and 146.

Another document confirmed that all magazines had been emptied of the uranium by 26 April 1944, eleven days after the depot closed.

The ruins of the old water pumphouse that used to supply water to the ordnance works can be found on Fritz Station Road, along the Susquehanna River.

Read the book, “Alvira and the Ordnance: An American Dream…Denied,” by Steve Hurdy and Paul Metzger, or order a copy of the documentary film, “Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira,” produced by filmmakers Steve and Martha Huddy. Both are available through the Muncy Historical Society.

Sources: https://susquehannavalley.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-alvira-bunkers.html, https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/pennsylvania/pa-alvira-bunkers, http://ghosttowns.com/states/pa/alvira.html, https://www.tdpri.com/threads/weird-but-cool-place-to-play-ww2-munitions-bunker.756174, https://www.pennlive.com/midstate/2013/03/government_accused_of_reneging.html, https://www.dailyitem.com/news/remembering-alvira-a-pennsylvania-village-lost/article_32f809e4-8d7f-11e7-a3fb-d3f839c2ac8d.html, https://muncyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/a-call-to-action-say-no-to-alvira-land-swap, https://uncoveringpa.com/alvira-bunkers, https://www.facebook.com/116216865062937/posts/surrender-the-sudden-death-of-alvira-pennsylvaniaat-the-campus-theatre-market-st/753243334693617, https://uncoveringpa.com/alvira-bunkers

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-lost-town-of-alvira-the-sad-story-behind-the-abandoned-bunkers-of-alvira/

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