From 1961 to 1995, this was the Congressional equivalent of Mount Weather (see VIRGINIA). Under a posh resort in the mountains of West Virginia was a 112,000-square-foot fallout shelter for members of Congress in case of nuclear war. After being decommissioned in 1992, it was turned over to the Greenbrier Resort. Today, you can take tours of this facility and even rent it for private parties!
Virginia’s Mount Weather was designed to shelter only the senior Congressional leadership in the event of a nuclear war. What about the other members of Congress and their key aides? They were supposed to travel about 250 miles southwest of Washington, DC, and wait out Armageddon in a bunker under the posh Greenbrier Resort.
Greenbrier Resort White Sulphur Springs Photo Gallery
The Greenbrier Resort was an unlikely spot for a top secret facility. The main hotel was built in 1913, and quickly became a favored resort of the rich and powerful; Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and over a dozen U.S. presidents have stayed at the Greenbrier. Recreation includes golf, croquet, and skeet shooting. The resort was a favorite of President Eisenhower because of the golf, and that may be why it was selected in 1959 as the site of Congress’s fallout shelter. The shelter was built under a new wing of the hotel, now called the West Virginia Wing, and both the new wing and fallout shelter were paid for by secret government funds. The code name of the project was “Greek Island,” and it was completed in mid-1961. It remained a closely guarded secret even among members of Congress; initially, only the Speaker of the House and Senate majority leader were informed of its existence. While senior managers of the Greenbrier knew “something” unusual was going on under their property, they knew nothing about it or its intended purpose. Maintenance of the property was done by a governme’nt “front” company known as Forsythe Associates. Managers and employees of the Greenbrier were told the Forsythe employees were there to repair and maintain the resort’s telephone, television, and electrical facilities. To avoid detection and suspicion by Greenbrier employees and guests, Forsythe employees entered the facility between 1 to 4 in the morning.
The Greenbrier bunker was built of steel-reinforced concrete and covered by 20 feet of earth; the resort’s tennis courts were above it. The doors to the facility weighed 25 tons and could supposedly withstand nearby nuclear explosions.
The Greenbrier facility finally came to the public’s attention through a report in the May 31, 1992 Washington Post. The report coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a greatly reduced risk of nuclear war, and studies were conducted as to whether the facility was still needed. In July 1995, the bunker was decommissioned and given to the Greenbrier.
What’s There: The Greenbrier bunker included two large meeting rooms for each house of Congress and a third, larger room for joint sessions. The living accommodations for most members of Congress were remarkably Spartan, consisting of bunk beds and communal bathrooms; they were only slightly better than an Army barracks (although each bed had a brass nameplate indicating which member of Congress it was for!). The majority and minority leaders of both houses had private quarters resembling rooms at a discount motel. The House Chaplain also had a small office adjacent to the House meeting room. Smaller work areas and offices were also available for Congress members to use. There was also lounging areas with books, magazines, and furniture and an exercise area equipped mainly with stationary bikes. The cafeteria resembled a college dining hall, although to prevent feelings of “entombment” it had numerous paintings depicting pastoral outdoor scenes. Most of the food, however, would have been military “meals ready to eat” rations instead of fresh food.
A decontamination shower area was located immediately after the entrance to the bunker. In case of an actual nuclear attack, the members of Congress were supposed to shower and change into green “jumpsuits” and white sneakers before entering the shelter (this was to prevent nuclear contamination). Three 24,000-gallon water tanks would have supplied fresh water, and there was also water purification