Secret City History
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
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A World War II Secret City

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city born of war in 1942, existed for seven years as a truly "Secret City."  Oak Ridge, Tennessee was not shown on any maps, did not allow any visitors other than by special approval, had guards posted at the entrances to the city and required all residents to wear badges at all times when outside their homes. Oak Ridge, Tennessee was born as a direct result of the letter written by Albert Einstein to then President Roosevelt in 1939 citing the urgent need to develop the capability to sustain a chain reaction of uranium.  From this letter came the plan for our nation to create an atomic weapon that would be more powerful than any weapon in the history of the world.  The Manhattan Project, created to develop this amazing new atomic weapon, spent 60 cents of every dollar in Oak Ridge!  The "Secret City" grew to a population of 75,000, was the fifth largest city in Tennessee and was not even on the map.

Some 60,000 acres of valleys and ridges chosen as a major site for the now historic Manhattan Project because of the close proximity to the new TVA dam at Norris, Tennessee for electrical power, the availability of labor in nearby Knoxville, Tennessee and the relative sparse population because  of the lay of the land which also afforded the valleys for the plants and the ridges to contain any accidental explosions.  Some say it was a political decision influenced by U.S. Sen. K. D. McKellar, a Tennessee Democrat who chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, and thus could assure President Roosevelt that funds could be provided without raising suspicions regarding its use.  Senator McKellar is said to have replied to Roosevelt's request to quietly approve significant funds to be made available for a secret war effort with "Yes, it can be done, and Mr. President, just where in Tennessee are we going to locate that thing?"  For whatever reason, the communities of Scarboro, New Hope, Robertsville, Elza and Wheat were chosen and given notice that their 3000 residents were to vacate their 1000 properties as they were to be required to support the war effort.   The people were given a matter of weeks to remove their possession and relocate.  

Oak Ridge, the "Secret City" is now a thriving community with substantial impact on national and even international issues.  From the Spallation Neutron Source (the single largest basic science project in the world), to the creation of the world's fastest computer, to the storage of the nuclear material and equipment recently relinquished by Libya, to the storage of the nations supply of weapons grade enriched Uranium, to the remanufacturing of the nation's nuclear stockpile, to the medical isotopes being used worldwide, to the remediation of the contaminated structures, equipment and land resulting from the nuclear operations at Oak Ridge, to a growing awareness of the World War II historical legacy that is uniquely Oak Ridge, a wide range of activities keep growing and contributing to Oak Ridge's future.

An important element in the future of Oak Ridge is the preservation of its history in tangible products and marketable ideas.  Heritage Tourism is a key to successful preservation.  READ THAT AGAIN!  Oak Ridge Heritage Tourism is a key to successful preservation of our history and the successful growth of a major segment of our economy.

Some examples of our heritage that needs to be preserved if we are to market our history and heritage are presented below:

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The Alexander Inn (The Guest House)

This once elegant "Guest House" has fallen into a sad state of disrepair.  Unless something is done quickly, it will soon be beyond reasonable repairs.  It is still within reason to bring it back to its original glory and prestige.

The Guest House served to house the visiting dignitaries during the Manhattan Project and continued to provide exceptional accommodations through the years as the Alexander Inn. It is in a sad state of disrepair at present. Several individuals are working through the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association in an attempt to find ways to preserve this historic structure. It is a natural for a "bed and breakfast" of the grandest kind.

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Chapel on the Hill

This is an example of a historical heritage that has been well maintained and has continued to be used for its intended purpose.

Thought needs to be given on how to best market this community asset without disturbing the intended purpose for the structure.

Heritage tourism can exist along side normal worship activities.

Chapel on the Hill was the first church built in Oak Ridge. It was constructed in 1943 near the main business district of the Secret City - Oak Ridge.
It was used by all faiths and scheduled heavily. It is still very much in use today as the meeting place for the United Church, a non-denominational congregation, and is still a favorite location for weddings.


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Midtown Community Center (old Wildcat Den)

Another example of a well maintained facility that has been adapted over the years as the need for its space changed.

The Midtown Community Center is the present home of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. It was originally a main community center for the Secret City - Oak Ridge, then "The Wildcat Den" for several years and then served a variety of uses before returning to its original use.

The Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association has taken this building and converted it into the main headquarters for heritage preservation.  Many programs originate here.  Ideas for preservation and heritage tourism are being considered here.  Working closely with the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitor's Bureau, new ideas such as "The Secret City Festival" and the recent inaugural  "Secret City Film Festival" are good examples.

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Y-12 Calutrons

The Uranium 235 needed to fuel the Atomic Bomb was separated from the more plentiful Uranium 238 using "Calutrons" at Y-12. The word "Calutron" comes from CALifornia University CycloTRON to recognize that it was designed by E. O. Lawrence.

This photo shows six of the original "D-Coil" magnets. These magnets were placed on either side of a vacuum chamber where the unique and scarce material was collected.

1152 Calutrons were installed at Y-12 and after a year of operation, collected 50 Kilograms of Uranium 235. That's 110 pounds, less than a gallon, and enough to fuel the first Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan leading to the ending of the war!


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Oak Ridge History
K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant
John Hendrix and Y-12
Historical Markers in Oak Ridge
Hymn to Life
Back of Oak Ridge and John Hendrix (Prophet of Oak Ridge) book
The Calutron Girls
Secret City the Movie
Bear Creek Valley
Calutrons Plowshares

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