Though you might not think White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, when you think of private getaways, it is home to one of the most elite resorts in the United States: The Greenbrier. The resort has hosted numerous congressional meetings, 27 presidents, and has been around since 1778. However, underneath the beautiful resort sat a government secret so well kept that, up until 1992, its existence was only known to a handful of people. For 30 years, a secret Congressional bunker lay hidden in plain sight (well, behind a reinforced steel door) at the Greenbrier Resort.
The 1950s and '60s were fraught with Cold War tension, and fears of a nuclear disaster. These fears led to a heightened interest in nuclear bunkers, underground safe spaces where important people (or whomever could afford to build such a shelter) could take refuge in case of nuclear war. President Eisenhower decided to build the bunker, believing Greenbrier to be the perfect location. It was far enough away from Washington D.C. to not need to withstand a direct hit from an atomic bomb, but close enough that members of Congress could rush over in about five hours. The bunker was built between 1958 and 1962 under the name "Project Greek Island," and was one of the government's best-kept secrets until its location was revealed in 1992.
During the Cold War, fears of nuclear war ran rampant in the United States. Schools taught their children to take cover under their desks in case of attacks, newspapers ran articles discussing the power behind a Soviet bomb, and the government even issued handouts detailing how to survive a nuclear bomb. Perhaps most importantly, fallout shelters became immensely popular.
Debates arose about exactly how moral it was that only people who could afford it were able to build these shelters, but that didn't stop the wealthy from building in and underneath their homes. The government, too, went on a bit of a building spree. Under JFK, a public fallout shelter program was initiated, but it was under Eisenhower that plans to build a shelter that would protect government officials came into play.
The 153-room bunker would be able to house about 1,000 people — that's more than enough beds for the 535 members of Congress. However, it's not nearly enough for all of them to be able to bring along their families. In fact, those who made it to the shelter would be literally stacked on top of each other, sleeping in bunk beds.
Each bed was assigned specifically to a person, too, so there was no room for extras. Spouses and children of those who took refuge in the shelter would simply have to find another place to ride out nuclear war.
Those working on Project Greek Island were very, very careful to keep the real nature of their construction project under wraps. It was a difficult task, though; the bunker — a giant hole that was dug next to the already-in-place Greenbrier luxury hotel — was huge. Once built, it had four entrances and measured about 112,000 square feet.
It would be able to house about 1,000 people (which, though a lot, meant the members of Congress who would flee there in case of an attack would have to leave behind their families). The bunker was two levels "tall." Besides the logistics of keeping such a big building a secret, for the 30 years it was hidden it had to be continually restocked.
That's a lot of going in and out of a building no one is supposed to know about, with six months worth of supplies.
After President Eisenhower ordered the plans for the nuclear bunker to be set in motion, government workers began building. They called the build "Project Greek Island," and took about four years from start (1958) to finish (1962). It was necessary to have a cover story for the very noticeable hole in the ground, so those who worked at and visited the hotel were told they were working on a new conference building.
They also timed the construction to happen concurrently with a new addition to the hotel, the West Virginia wing, so questions wouldn't arise when all that construction didn't turn into anything visible.