Imagine living in a town in a fenced-off confined area and instructed not to disclose about the nature of your work, which only involved specific tasks. Your family is with you, but you aren’t allowed to talk to others outside about what you do.
Guards are posted at every entry. All of this is necessary because the government needed to have enough resources and area to build the most defining aspect of World War II – the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb.
As ominous as this sounds, it was all part of the local history here in Oak Ridge TN, not surprisingly called the Secret City, which is a quick 25-minute drive from our Tennessee bed and breakfast.
Less than a year after the United States’ entry in the war, more than 60,000 acres of farmland became one of the largest laboratories in the country, under massive secrecy. Temporary homes and stores sprang up almost overnight, but in time this community became Oak Ridge. Today, the city of over 29,000 is no longer a secret and hosts the impressive American Museum of Science and Energy and other facilities dedicated to scientific discovery.
The AMSE offers a highly interactive experience detailing Oak Ridge’s unique place in World War II history. In addition, you can view exhibits relating to national defense, developments in energy resources and the nature of atomic science. Several fascinating temporary exhibits rotate throughout the year, most of which will appeal to all ages. Pay special attention to the photographs and 20-minute video that shows how Americans tried to live normal lives under the guise of a top-secret government facility.
A bus tour sponsored by the Department of Energy takes visitors near the X-10 Graphite Reactor, a now-defunct structure that produced plutonium for the Manhattan Project and eventually developed medical and scientific isotopes. Two other important establishments that have contributed to energy resource development are the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the New Hope Center at the Y-12 Plant. Because these two sites are active working facilities of the federal government, you will have to be a U.S. citizen over 10 years old and need a reservation to tour them.
Of course, there’s so much more to Oak Ridge than its wartime origins and heritage. Because of its scenic location in the Tennessee foothills, outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Hikers, runners and cyclists will enjoy the 65 miles of trails around the city that wind through lush woodland areas and Melton Lake Park, a popular spot for fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding. If you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie on a mountain bike, then head over to Haw Ridge Park and take on some of the most difficult but thrilling routes you’ll find. Golfers will enjoy the links at the Centennial Golf Course, considered one of the finest public facilities in the state, or the private Oak Ridge Country Club.
More sedate activities are also part of the Oak Ridge scene too. The admission-free University of Tennessee Arboretum features an extensive system of trails that crosses over 250 acres. You can view both native and exotic plant species as well as birds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife. The city also plenty of performing arts programs such as theater, music concerts and dance productions, and shopping in the Jackson Square area.
Plan to spend a day here in the Secret City, which was once a place that wanted to keep its existence unknown, but now wears its identity loud and proud. If you’d like to know more about Oak Ridge TN, we can share some local knowledge about where else to go and what to do. Just ask us at the front desk and we would be delighted to help you plan your trip.
If you’re looking for great things to do in East Tennessee request our full guide which will give you 25 things to throughout the region for any taste or preference!
Photo by bobistraveling.