The Highlands and the Manhattan Project

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By Carol White and Linda White

We have always been interested in the Manhattan Project, as our family was almost involved with it. We’d like to share the family story with you.

Our Grandfather, Dr. Marsh W. White, was a Physics professor at Penn State University starting in the 1920’s. He was a member of several organizations of physicists and very much involved with physicists throughout the U.S. 

Our Grandfather in uniform

When WWII started, he was recruited by the Army to work with them in the sciences and made an honorary Colonel.  Because he knew so many scientists at other colleges, he was given a choice of two assignments. One option was to work with the Army to find and reassign personnel who would be better used staying in the U.S. and working on scientific developments instead of on the front lines.  The other option was some hush-hush assignment somewhere in New Mexico working on a project no one could tell him about.

Our grandmother decided they would be better off to go to Washington DC and work on the reassignment job instead of going to some hot, dusty place in the middle of nowhere. Besides, they had 3 sons who were all in the Army and who may still get some leave before going overseas and they could get to see them more easily from Washington than from New Mexico.

So, our family stayed on the East Coast, Grandfather spent most of WWII working in DC for the Army, and there were never stories to hear about the secret job in Los Alamos.  

Marsh and Stella with their 3 sons in front of 511 East Prospect Avenue

Grandfather and his bride Stella originally lived in a house on Gill Street, where our father was born.  After a few years, they moved to 511 East Prospect Avenue, where they bought a Sears house – a Colonial Revival, termed “the Winthrop,” which Grandfather once described this way: “A fine group of houses was developed in the 1930s in the eastern section of the town.  Construction was less expensive and financing was facilitated by using materials from Sears. My house was built by John Henszey, and it was purchased in 1934 from Professor Hufford who had it built years earlier.”  Stella and Marsh lived there the rest of their lives.

Marsh received the first Ph.D. awarded by Penn State in 1926, and Stella received her Master’s Degree in History – a somewhat special achievement at the time.  Grandfather often joked that, in his doctoral thesis, he attempted to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity was wrong.  He did not succeed in that, but it did earn him his degree.

Marsh and Stella raised three sons – Laurence (our father), his twin Kenneth, and their younger brother Malcolm.  All three graduated from Penn State, where all three were members of Delta Chi.  Only Daddy remained in State College and raised his family a few short blocks away.  We were also in a Sears house (this one “the Princeton”) and also in the Highlands.

Carol White was raised in State College, along with her brother and sister, on East Foster Avenue.  After graduating from SCHS she attended Penn State, earning her BA and MA.  She focused her career as a Marketing Communications Executive in the professional services industry in Los Angeles and Chicago. Since retiring and returning to State College, she has served as President of the Collegian Board of Directors; President of the Board of Central PA Creative Professionals ([CP]2); and Chair of the Advisory Council for the Penn’s Woods Music Festival.  She enjoys being back in State College and all that Penn State and the community have to offer—as well as the company of her sister, Linda.  

Linda White was raised on East Foster Avenue.  Her grandparents lived just 2 blocks away on East Prospect Avenue.  Both houses were Sears homes.  She moved to Boston in the late 1970’s, and enjoyed 12 years in the city, working as an accountant for Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, a commercial Real Estate development & management company.  She returned to State College in 1991, when her parents were still in town (although by then, in a different neighborhood).  She eventually ended up working at Penn State (as had her father and grandfather) in Accounting Operations and retired in 2017.  She is now enjoying retirement and sharing a home with her sister in Toftrees.