Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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World's Largest Fallout Shelter, Sunbright Mine Belies Its Name

By EDITH ROBERTSON Times-News Staff Writer

Silence-so overwhelming I could hear my pulse beat. Darkness-so thick that our flashlights pushed thin, futile fingers of light into the blackness.

Then a roar the indescribable sound of a beautiful lost waterfall 600 feet underground; a cascade of wild water falling endlessly into a bottomless pit-maybe to China.

A fallout shelter may be many things in today's world the plebian basement of a downtown building, or a padded concrete hole in the yard of someone who plans for extinction in style.

But the fallout shelter where Times-News photographer Tom Mosier and I spent the better part of a day was none of these.

In addition to silence, darkness and a stifling feeling of unreality, it was passages and tunnels and caves without end-huge stockpiles of medical supplies, sanitary facilities and food, seemingly tossed by a careless giant in caverns with 40-foot stone ceilings.

Most of all, it was imagination trying desperately to think what this 16 miles of solid limestone tunnels would be like if it were ever used for real if 45,000 frantic folk should seek Shelter here from the holocaust.


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(Times-News Photos -Tom Mosier)

TO SAFETY? This is the route through the fallout shelter portion of the mine, lighted for about two city blocks. The rest is utter darkness; a 16- mile honeycomb of passages on two different levels.

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SUPPLY STOCKPILE - Times-News reporter Edith Robertson, wearing the miner's hard hat required for all mine visitors, reads instructions on Civil Defense emergency supplies stored in one of three locations underground.

 

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RUNNING WATER-This waterfall 600 feet underground would provide ice-cold running water if the Sunbright mine were ever used as a fallout shelter. The barricade prevents people from falling into the bottomless pit beneath the falls.

With the glory of Autumn all.. about on the outside, it was difficult to imagine thousands of fleeing people jamming the only route to Sunbright, Va.-U.S. Highway 23, 19 winding miles north of Gate City

WASN'T DIFFICULT AT ALL

But once inside the already-worked portion of the Foote Mineral Company's big limestone mine in the bowels of Stone Mountain, it wasn't difficult at all.

Billed as the world's largest fallout shelter; the Sunbright mine will easily transfer man back to his natural habitat of cave and campfire; squatting in the dark, fearful of the terrors on the outside.

The t unnels honeycombing the mountain are complete with built-in air conditioning, running water (the waterfall) and enough room to hold 70,000 people instead of 45,000 with the addition of huge ventilating fans with their own generating system.

Stored in gigantic, haphazard piles in three tunnel locations are enough food (the graham cracker-like emergency rations) sanitary facilities (portable toilets) and empty water cans for 45,000 people.

FARE WON'T BE FANCY

It won't be fancy fare, and it might be monotonous after a while, but it will keep ,body and soul together.

The shelter comes under the jurisdiction of Scott County Civil Defense coordinator Ford Hubble. Foote Mineral Co. granted use of the old mine for a shelter at Uncle Sam's request.

The company is working now underneath another part of Stone Mountain, and no longer operates the section begun in 1953, where the shelter is located.

A few tips for anybody planning to strike out for Sunbright if doomsday comes.

Wear heavy clothing it's 55 degrees in the shelter all the time, and those rocks you'll be sitting on are cold.
Wear low-heel shoes, and watch your step.  At Some places, the floor level suddenly drops 20 feet, straight down.

CARRY A LIGHT, BATTERIES

Carry a good light and a supply of batteries for it. It's dark down there. Take a clock also. Time has a way of standing still.

The shelter is fine, for the purpose.

But when we came up again into the bright beauty of the outside world; the thought that it might all someday vanish into fire and ash was too much to bear.

I stood drinking in the glory of blue November sky, scarlet tree and mountainside; praying silently that it would last forever.

 

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