Walking into the downtown post office a few weeks ago I noticed a sign above the door that read “Fallout Shelter”. I was immediately intrigued and started to do some research. Imagine my surprise when I found out Quincy was once home to the largest nuclear fallout shelter in the country!
In the mid-to-late 1950′s during the Cold War and Cuban Nuclear Crisis, 70 percent of Americans thought a nuclear attack was a very real possibly. With the fear of an imminent attack a constant topic, preparations to survive such an emergency were put into place throughout the city.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy requested the government spend $3.2 billion in military spending, including $207 million to identify spaces for fallout shelters. The United States could be bombed at any minute; shelters represented last-ditch hope for survival.
The money wasn’t enough to actually build shelters, it was up to volunteers to see through construction. Civilians would be defending themselves against nuclear war.
Churches and schools throughout the country were surveyed and basements were measured. In offices, employees signed up as air raid wardens, prepared to slap on armbands and shepherd coworkers to safety. In the food industry, companies produced shelter biscuits and “carbohydrate supplements”, along with fruit-flavored candies to add flavor to confinement.
One of Quincy’s largest shelters was located in the limestone quarry caves of Calcium Carbonate near 8th St & Gardner Denver Expressway. The caves were provided at no charge by William S. Black. Sr., president of Calcium Carbonate. The shelter was stocked with 650.000 pounds of food, medical and sanitary kits and water drums. The caves were ideal for a shelter as they provided their own water source. The shelter was capable of housing 81,000 people, making it one of the largest shelters in the United States.
At one point there was a total of at least 36 licensed shelters located throughout Quincy and Adams County. To ensure that people were ready in the event of a nuclear event, Members of Quincy’s Civil Defense Shelter Management Group took part in a 24 hour training session in a simulated fallout shelter in the Court House.
After the Cold War, these shelters became less of a priority and many of the buildings that were once designated as fallout shelters have likely been repurposed for other uses.
The Office of Civil Defense would eventually transform into what is now the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.