Hidden History: Bunkers of Alvira

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ALLENWOOD, UNION COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- All this month, Eyewitness News is taking you back in time, visiting some of Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania’s history you may not know about.

We start in Union County, where the Village of Alvira was home to so many. Now, only abandoned bunkers stand where hundreds of people used to live.

My grandmother’s mother was actually carried off her front porch and her house was torn down by bulldozers,” says historian Paul C. Metzeger.

It’s a similar narrative for many families. For Metzeger, the story of Alvira hits close to home.

“This is Dr. Metzeger’s home, it gives you an idea of the fine homes that were in this village,” he says. “There were about 12 within the village and sadly, in a matter of six weeks, they were gone.”

In 1942, his family’s land, taken, through eminent domain. The U.S. government knocking down dozens of homes, displacing nearly 500 people.

“They were told at the meeting at the stone church that they were going to have to give up their property for a war effort,” says Steve Huddy, author of “The Land.” “The war department was very vague about what they were going to do.”

In a matter of eleven months, Alvira was gone, replaced with 150 concrete bunkers. Each one, 47 feet in diameter, 24 feet high, constructed entirely of concrete. It’s purpose- to hold thousands of pounds of TNT.

“It was designed to explode upward if anything bad happened, so the walls that we see here, closer to the ground, are about 18 inches thick,” says Huddy.

Making it nearly impossible to ever be destroyed unlike the homes and families that once lived there.

“In the end, they were told twice that when the war process concluded that they could get their property back,” says Huddy. “One thing that sticks with people today was that was a lie.”

This all transpired back in 1942, when the U.S. was fully engulfed in World War Two and America had become an arsenal. In the Commonwealth, TNT production intensified.

“The Pennsylvania ordinance works was putting out about 650 pounds of TNT a day. They had to put that into 50 pound boxes and then store it until they could ship it out,” says Huddy.

Requiring the need for storage in quiet Alvira.

The land, once promised to be returned, now overtaken by wilderness. Abandoned bunkers are hidden in the brush.

“Nobody really new what the impact of a war was going to be,” says Metzeger. “Everybody was in fear. So while they left with heavy hearts, the promises that were made to them in that stone church were broken. So I think they died of broken hearts.”

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