It’s no secret that Oak Ridge is rich in history. What is now a well-known city with almost 30,000 residents was once a secret to the public. To help you learn more about the Secret City and how it was built, check out these 3 interesting facts about the history of Oak Ridge:
In 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purchased 59,000 acres of century-old farms and small rural communities as part of their top-secret mission to produce atomic weapons that would end the war. It was the largest of the 3 Manhattan Project sites that was built to produce the world’s first atomic weapons. Oak Ridge was given the name of the “Secret City” because no one except those who lived there knew it existed. The entire town and facilities were fenced in, with armed guards at each entry. All of the workers were sworn to secrecy and only informed about the specific tasks they needed to complete. Most of the workers were unaware of the nature of what they were building until the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945.
What is now known as Historic Jackson Square was once the city’s original town site. During the war, the area was open 24/7 and was a common spot for workers to gather when they had downtime. It was designed to offer those who lived there shopping, recreation, and business facilities. Today, Jackson Square is part of the Oak Ridge Historic District designated by the National Historic Places. It features shops, local restaurants, unique events, and a look back at wartime in Oak Ridge.
According to local tradition, a man named John Hendrix had visions about the establishment of the Secret City about 40 years before construction began. One vision that he talked about repeatedly was considered to be a description of the city and the facilities that were built 28 years after his death and used in World War II. Neighbors and relatives of Hendrix reported that he said, “Bear Creek Valley someday will be filled with great buildings and factories, and they will help toward winning the greatest war that ever will be.” Today, visitors to the Secret City can learn about the Prophet of Oak Ridge at the John Hendrix Memorial Prayer Walk. This easy half-mile nature trail tells the story of John Hendrix in a beautiful outdoor setting.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Oak Ridge, the best thing to do is plan a visit to the city! You’ll have opportunities all around you to see parts of Oak Ridge’s past, whether you’re strolling through Jackson Square, or visiting a museum. Here are some of the best ways to learn more:
American Museum of Science and Energy: A must-visit is the American Museum of Science and Energy, where you can explore the history of Oak Ridge and its role in the Manhattan Project through a number of interactive and hands-on opportunities. The museum tells the story of national and global security, history, science, research, and more successes that occurred in Oak Ridge since the Manhattan Project. When you visit the museum, be sure to take the Department of Energy’s guided bus tour! The tour is available March through November and includes highlights of the history of Oak Ridge and the history of science and technology at the 3 U.S. Department of Energy/Oak Ridge facilities.
Secret City Commemorative Walk: The Secret City Commemorative Walk at Bissell Park honors the thousands of men and women who moved to Oak Ridge to help end World War II. The memorial’s walkway includes bronze markers that tell the story of what life was like for those who lived in Oak Ridge while it was closed to the public, and Founder Walls that display the names of the original founders who came to work in Oak Ridge during 1942-1949.
These are just some of the ways you can explore the history of Oak Ridge! Learn more about Oak Ridge, then start planning your visit.