Reminders of Cold War linger in Douglas County home

An experimental fallout shelter constructed in 1961 by Tvrdik Concrete and commissioned by the Office of Civil Defense — now the Department of Homeland Security — remains in a home located on the western edge of Alexandria.


Remnants of the Cold War still linger in an Alexandria area home: Thick concrete line the walls of a small enclosed room as protection against the unthinkable, a nuclear bomb.

First, some background: The tension between the United States and the Soviet Union was high in the 1960s. And as both countries entered the Atomic Age— a time when both countries were in an arms race, testing developing and enhancing atomic bombs— fear of nuclear war seemed inevitable.

In the 1950s, as part of President Harry S. Truman’s Federal Civil Defense Administration program, schools practiced “duck and cover drills” to prepare for bombings. Students were taught to dive under their desks and cover their heads.

By 1961 while President John F. Kennedy was in office, the federal government developed the Community Fallout Shelter Program. The government constructed fallout shelters all across the country. Yellow and black trefoil signs mark them.

In June of 1960, according to an article in the Park Region Echo (now the Echo Press), the Douglas County Civil Defense Headquarters Director, Bob Collins, reached out to any interested farmers in the area for their farmhouse to be used as the location for an experimental fallout shelter.


The Office of Civil Defense, which later became the Department of Homeland Security, would pay for a "9 x 12-foot cement block shelter" to be constructed on the property of the willing farmer. Requirements for the farm “must be of average size and contain an average size family and should be located on a good road within 10 miles of Alexandria," the article said.

The farmer had to enter into a lease agreement with the U.S. government, which allowed the government partial ownership of the property for one year with the option to renew the lease for a second year. During this time, the government was allowed access to the property for two 20-day periods to conduct "survival research." The shelter would also be open to the public for viewing during an agreed-upon time with the homeowner. A separate public entrance would be built to ensure the family’s privacy.

Once the agreed-upon period ended, the property rights would be returned exclusively to the original homeowner.

Francis Hartman of Alexandria volunteered his property, which was located just on the western edge of Alexandria.

The purpose of the shelter build was to show the community how they can escape an atomic bomb and be safe from nuclear fallout, allegedly.

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The entrance of a 1961 experimental fallout shelter hidden inside a wardrobe. (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

Also, according to the article, only two such experimental shelters were built in Minnesota. One in a farm home in Alexandria, and the other in a city home in St. Cloud.


In 1962, in cooperation with the United States Office of Civil Defense, the Minnesota Office of Civil Defense, and the Douglas County Office of Civil Defense, a "Douglas County in time of emergency" booklet was published. The booklet featured "11 complete plans for basement, patio, and outside shelters" for civilians to build themselves. As well as other ways to survive a nuclear attack.

The Alexandria shelter remains intact today and is primarily used for storage.

“We originally thought it was a tornado shelter separate from the basement,” said Kim Lucken, the current homeowner. “We use it for storage, mostly old paint we don’t use anymore.”

Gallery: Cold-War era fallout shelter

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An old crank used to draw fresh air into the fallout shelter in times of danger. (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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