Saturday, February 23, 2013
Oak Ridge, TN
Nickname(s): The Atomic City, The Secret City
Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 29,330 at the 2010 census. The portion of the city located in Anderson County is included in the Knoxville Metropolitan Area, while the portion located in Roane County is included in the Harriman, Tennessee Micropolitan Statistical Area; both of these areas are components of the Knoxville-Sevierville-La Follette, TN Combined Statistical Area. Oak Ridge's nicknames include the Atomic City, the Secret City, the Ridge, and the City Behind the Fence.
Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project—the massive U.S. government operation that developed the atomic bomb. Scientific development still plays a crucial role in the city's economy and culture in general.
The earliest substantial occupation of the Oak Ridge area occurred during the Woodland period (c. 1000 BC–1000), although artifacts dating to the Paleo-Indian period have been found throughout the Clinch Valley. Two Woodland mound sites—the Crawford Farm Mounds and the Freels Farm Mounds—were uncovered in the 1930's as part of the Norris Basin salvage excavations. Both sites were located just southeast of the former Scarboro community. The Bull Bluff site, which was occupied during both the Woodland and Mississippian (c. 1000–1600) periods, was uncovered in the 1960's in anticipation of the construction of Melton Hill Dam. Bull Bluff is a cliff located immediately southeast of Haw Ridge, opposite Melton Hill Park. The Oak Ridge area was largely uninhabited by the time Euro-American explorers and settlers arrived in the late 18th century, although the Cherokee claimed the land as part of their hunting grounds.
Historical marker recalling the now-defunct community of Scarboro
In the 19th century, the Oak Ridge area saw the development of several rural farming communities, namely Edgemoor and Elza in the northeast, East Fork and Wheat in the southwest, Robertsville in the west, and Bethel and Scarboro in the southeast. The settlers who founded these communities first arrived in the late 1790's, when the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Holston, ceding what is now Anderson County to the United States.
George Jones Memorial Baptist Church, built by the residents of Wheat in 1901
According to local tradition, John Hendrix (1865–1915), an eccentric local resident regarded as a mystic, prophesied the establishment of Oak Ridge some 40 years before construction began. Upset by the death of his young daughter and the subsequent departure of his wife and remaining family, he became religious and told his neighbors he was seeing visions. When he described his visions, people thought he was insane; for this reason, he was institutionalized for a time. According to several published accounts, one vision that he described repeatedly was an uncannily accurate description of the city and production facilities that were built 28 years after his death. The version recalled by neighbors and relatives has been reported as follows:
In the woods, as I lay on the ground and looked up into the sky, there came to me a voice as loud and as sharp as thunder. The voice told me to sleep with my head on the ground for 40 nights and I would be shown visions of what the future holds for this land.... And I tell you, 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. And there will be a city on Black Oak Ridge and the center of authority will be on a spot middle-way between Sevier Tadlock's farm and Joe Pyatt's Place. A railroad spur will branch off the main L&N line, run down toward Robertsville and then branch off and turn toward Scarborough. Big engines will dig big ditches, and thousands of people will be running to and fro. They will be building things, and there will be great noise and confusion and the earth will shake. I've seen it. It's coming.
Starting in October 1942, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began acquiring the Oak Ridge area for the Manhattan Project. Unlike TVA's land acquisitions for Norris Dam—which were still fresh on the minds of many Anderson Countians—the Corps' "declaration of taking" was much more swift and final. Many residents came home to find eviction notices tacked to their doors. Most were given six weeks to evacuate, although several had as little as two weeks. Some were even forced out before they received compensation. By March 1943, the area's pre-Manhattan Project communities had been removed, and fences and checkpoints had been established. Anderson County lost one-seventh of its land and $391,000 in annual property tax revenue. The manner with which the Oak Ridge area was acquired created a tense, uneasy relationship between Oak Ridge and the surrounding towns that lasted throughout the Manhattan Project.
The Bethel Valley Checking Station
In 1942, the United States federal government chose the area as a site for developing materials for the Manhattan Project. Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project, liked the area for several reasons. Its relatively low population made acquisition affordable, yet the area was accessible by both highway and rail, and utilities such as water and electricity were readily available due to the recent completion of Norris Dam. Finally, the project location was established within a 17-mile-long (27 km) valley, and the valley itself was linear and partitioned by several ridges, providing natural protection against disasters between the four major industrial plants—so they wouldn't blow up "like firecrackers on a string."
Workers leaving the Manhattan Project's Y-12 plant at shift changing time, 1945 (US government photo by Ed Westcott)
The location and low population also helped keep the town a secret, though the population of the settlement grew from about 3,000 in 1942 to about 75,000 in 1945, and the K-25 uranium-separating facility by itself covered 44 acres (18 ha) and was the largest building in the world at that time. The name "Oak Ridge" was chosen for the settlement in 1943 from among suggestions submitted by project employees, in part because of the settlement's location along Black Oak Ridge, and in part because the rural-sounding name "held outside curiosity to a minimum." The name wasn't formally adopted until 1949, however, and was only referred to as the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW). All workers wore badges, and the town was surrounded by guard towers and a fence with seven gates.
United Church, The Chapel on the Hill, built for Manhattan Project employees
Beginning in late 1942, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began acquiring more than 60,000 acres (24,000 ha) for the CEW under authority of the Corps' Manhattan Engineer District (MED). The K-25, S-50, and Y-12 plants were each built in Oak Ridge to separate the fissile isotope uranium-235 from natural uranium, which consists almost entirely of the isotope uranium-238. During construction of the magnets which were required for the process that would separate the uranium at the Y-12 site, a shortage of copper forced the MED to borrow 14,700 tons of silver bullion from the United States Treasury to be used for electrical conductors for the electromagnet coils as a substitute. The X-10 site, now the location of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was established as a pilot plant for production of plutonium using the Graphite Reactor.
Because of the large number of workers recruited to the area for the Manhattan Project, the Army planned a town for project workers at the eastern end of the valley. The time required for the project's completion caused the Army to opt for a relatively permanent establishment rather than a camp of enormous size.
The architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) was contracted to provide a layout for the town and house designs. SOM Partner John O. Merrill moved to Tennessee to take charge of designing the secret buildings at Oak Ridge. He directed the creation of a town, which soon had 300 miles (480 km) of roads, 55 miles (89 km) of railroad track, ten schools, seven theaters, 17 restaurants and cafeterias, and 13 supermarkets. A library with 9,400 books, a symphony orchestra, sporting facilities, church services for 17 denominations, and a Fuller Brush Company salesman served the new city and its 75,000 residents. Prefabricated modular homes, apartments, and dormitories, many made from cemesto (bonded cement and asbestos) panels, were quickly erected. Streets were laid out in the manner of a "planned community".
The original streets included several main east-to-west roads, namely the Oak Ridge Turnpike, Tennessee Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Hillside Road, Robertsville Road, and Outer Drive. North-to-south oriented streets connecting these main roads were designated "Avenues", and streets branching off from the avenues were designated "Roads", "Places", "Lanes", or "Circles". "Roads" connected two streets, while "Lanes" and "Places" were dead ends. The names of the main avenues generally progressed alphabetically from east to west (e.g., Alabama Avenue in the east, Vermont Avenue in the west), and the names of the smaller streets began with the same letter as the main avenue from which they started (e.g., streets connected to Florida Avenue began with "F"). This made it considerably easier for the city's new residents to find each other.
Housing for families was constructed according to a series of templates, identified by letters. Thus an "A" house was the smallest lettered design, with one bedroom. A "B" house featured two bedrooms, a "D" house three bedrooms with a larger living space, an "E" was a two-story four-unit structure, and an "F" was the largest type home. The smallest homes were called "flat tops"; originally intended to be only temporary structures, they proliferated atop the ridges in the west end of town.
More spacious homes were awarded by the government based upon family size and the status of the worker. If a couple became divorced, they would usually be "demoted" in terms of their housing allocation, and a worker who became unemployed would usually lose his or her home altogether.
Oak Ridge was developed by the federal government as a segregated community. Black residents lived only in an area known as Gamble Valley and lived predominantly in government-built "hutments" (one-room shacks) on the south side of what is now Tuskegee Drive. Oak Ridge elementary education prior to 1954 was totally segregated; black children could only attend the Scarboro Elementary School. Oak Ridge High School was closed to black children, who had to be bussed out to Knoxville for an education. Starting in 1950, Scarboro High School operated for African American students at Scarboro Elementary School. It operated until Oak Ridge High School was desegregated in the fall of 1955. In 1953, an abortive attempt had been made by the Oak Ridge Town Council to encourage the desegregation of Oak Ridge High School; this resulted in an unsuccessful attempt to recall one of the council members, Waldo Cohn. It took the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education to change the federal government's stance in this matter. After the Brown decision, the nearby high school in Clinton was desegregated in the fall of 1956 and later bombed, closing it down. Oak Ridge then provided space at a recently vacated elementary school building (the original Linden Elementary School) for the education of high school students from Clinton for two years while Clinton High School was being rebuilt. Robertsville Junior High School, serving the west half of Oak Ridge, was desegregated at the same time as the high school. Elementary schools in other parts of the city and Jefferson Junior High School, serving the east half of the city, were desegregated slowly as African American families moved into housing outside of Gamble Valley until, in 1967, Scarboro Elementary School was closed and African American students from Gamble Valley were bused to other schools around the city. In the years after the Brown decision, public accommodations in Oak Ridge were also integrated, although this took a number of years. In the early 1960's, Oak Ridge briefly experienced protest picketing against racial segregation in public accommodations, notably outside a local cafeteria and a laundromat.
Construction personnel swelled the wartime population of Oak Ridge to as much as 70,000. That dramatic population increase, and the secret nature of the project, meant chronic shortages of housing and supplies during the war years. The town was administered by Turner Construction Company through a subsidiary named the Roane-Anderson Company. For most residents, however, their "landlord" was known as "MSI" (Management Services, Inc.).
The news of the use of the first atomic bomb against Japan on August 6, 1945, revealed to the people at Oak Ridge what they had been working on.
Since World War II
The "International Friendship Bell" (colloquially, the Peace Bell) at the Oak Ridge Civic Center
Two years after World War II ended, Oak Ridge was shifted to civilian control, under the authority of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The Roane Anderson Company administered most community functions under a government contract. In 1959 the town was incorporated, and a city manager and City Council form of government was adopted by the community rather than direct federal control. Three of the four major facilities created for the wartime bomb production are still standing today:
K-25, where uranium was enriched by the gaseous diffusion process until 1985, is now being decommissioned and decontaminated.
Y-12, originally used for electromagnetic separation of uranium, is still in use for nuclear weapons processing and materials storage.
X-10, site of a test graphite reactor, is now the site of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The S-50 liquid thermal diffusion plant was demolished soon after the war.
In 1983, the Department of Energy declassified a report showing that significant amounts of mercury had been released from the Oak Ridge Reservation into the East Fork Poplar Creek between 1950 and 1977. A federal court ordered the DOE to bring the Oak Ridge Reservation into compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.
Currently, the Department of Energy runs a nuclear and high-tech research establishment at the site and performs national security work. Tours of parts of the original facility are available to American citizens from June through September. The tour is so popular that there is a waiting list for seats.
Oak Ridge's scientific heritage is explored in the American Museum of Science and Energy.
Jaguar, a supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was the world's fastest computer until October 2010, when it was surpassed by China's Tianhe-I.
View from the Oak Ridge Summit, a barren knob on the north slope of Pine Ridge. East Fork Ridge is on the left, Blackoak Ridge spans the horizon.
Immediately northeast of Oak Ridge, the southwestward-flowing Clinch River bends sharply to the southeast for roughly 6 miles (9.7 km) toward Solway, where it turns again to the southwest. After flowing for approximately 17 miles (27 km), the river bends sharply to the northwest at Copper Ridge, and continues in this direction for nearly 7 miles (11 km). At the K-25 plant, the Clinch turns southwest again and flows for another 11 miles (18 km) to its mouth along the Tennessee River at Kingston. This series of bends creates a half-rectangle formation—surrounded by water on the northeast, east, and southwest—in which Oak Ridge is situated.
The Oak Ridge area is striated by five elongated ridges that run roughly parallel to one another in a northeast-to-southwest direction. In order from west-to-east, the five ridges are Blackoak Ridge—which connects the Elza and K-25 bends of the Clinch and thus "walls off" the half-rectangle—East Fork Ridge, Pine Ridge, Chestnut Ridge, and Haw Ridge. The five ridges are divided by four valleys—East Fork Valley (between Blackoak and East Fork Ridge), Gamble Valley (between East Fork Ridge and Pine Ridge), Bear Creek Valley (between Pine Ridge and Chestnut), and Bethel Valley (between Chestnut and Haw). These ridges and valleys are part of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians physiographic province. The main section of the city is located in the northeast, where East Fork and Pine Ridge give way to low, scattered hills. Many of the city's residences are located along the relatively steep northeastern slope of Blackoak Ridge.
The Oak Ridge Commemorative Walk at the Civic Center
The completion of Melton Hill Dam (along the Clinch near Copper Ridge) in 1963 created Melton Hill Lake, which borders the city on the northeast and east. The lakefront on the east side of the city is a popular recreation area, with bicycling trails and picnic areas lining the shore. The lake is also well known as a venue for rowing competitions. Watts Bar Lake, an impoundment of the Tennessee River which covers the lower 23 miles (37 km) of the Clinch, borders Oak Ridge to the south and southwest.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 90.0 square miles (233.0 km2), of which 85.3 square miles (220.8 km2) is land and 4.7 square miles (12.2 km2), or 5.25%, is water.
The entrance to Y-12
The federal government projects at Oak Ridge are reduced in size and scope, but are still the city's principal economic activity and one of the biggest employers in the Knoxville metropolitan area. The Department of Energy owns the federal sites and maintains a major office in the city. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest multipurpose lab in the Department of Energy's National Laboratory system, and is also home to the Spallation Neutron Source, a 1.4 billion dollar project completed in 2006, and "Jaguar", one of the world's most powerful scientific supercomputers that has peak performance of more than one quadrillion operations per second. The Y-12 National Security Complex is a component of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The Department of Energy's Environmental Management office is conducting an extensive program of decontamination and decommissioning, environmental cleanup, and waste management that aims to remove or stabilize the hazardous residues remaining from decades of government production and research activities. The Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information, which disseminates government research and development information and operates the Science.gov website, is located in the city. The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, operated by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, conducts research and education programs for the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. The Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), one of several field divisions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Air Resources Laboratory, is also located in the city. ATDD began under AEC sponsorship in 1948 as a Weather Bureau research office providing meteorological information and expertise for the AEC. Currently its main function is to perform air quality-related research directed toward issues of national and global importance.
Boeing operated a manufacturing plant in the city beginning in the early 1980's, but closed in 2007. IPIX, Remotec (now a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman), and several other technology-based companies have been founded in Oak Ridge. Wackenhut provides security services for DOE's local facilities, employing about 900 people. Several radioactive waste processing companies, including EnergySolutions, have operations in Oak Ridge.
The infrastructure that was new in the 1940s is aging, and the once-isolated city is now incorporated into the Knoxville metropolitan area. Oak Ridge, a proud city with historic international implications, is now challenged to blend into the suburban orbit of Knoxville as its heritage as a "super secret" government installation subsides. Changing economic forces have led to continuing changes in the commercial sector. For example, the Oak Ridge City Center, a shopping center built in the 1950's and converted to an indoor shopping mall in the 1980's by Crown American, is largely empty in preparation for its partial demolition and redevelopment into a more open type of shopping development.
The ORISE building at Oak Ridge Associated Universities
The city operates a preschool, four elementary schools enrolling kindergarten through grade 4, two middle schools enrolling grades 5 through 8, and one high school enrolling grades 9 through 12.
In an August 2004 referendum, city voters approved an increase in local sales taxes to fund a $55 million project for Oak Ridge High School. Following demolition of one wing of the main building, construction on the first wall of the new building began in April 2005. Temporary classrooms were set up to house science classes; they will continue to be used for different purposes as the multi-year project progresses.
Roane State Community College has its largest branch campus in Oak Ridge. Other higher education organizations present in the community, but not offering classes locally, include the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and the University of Tennessee Forestry Stations and Arboretum.
Independent schools in the city include the Montessori School of Oak Ridge (preschool and kindergarten), St. Mary's School (Roman Catholic, pre-kindergarten through grade 8), and several preschools. The Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning offers a diverse array of educational opportunities for adults.
Oak Ridge is served by a daily newspaper, The Oak Ridger, and was for many years the home of AM radio station WATO.
A smaller daily newspaper in the area is The Oak Ridge Observer.
The following are notable people who were born, educated, resided, or worked in Oak Ridge:
E. Riley Anderson, Tennessee Supreme Court justice
Jennifer Azzi, former WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist
General B.B. Bell, general in command of U.S. Forces Korea since 2006 and previously in command of United States Army, Europe and NATO's Joint Command
Manson Benedict, nuclear engineering pioneer
Mike Caldwell, former NFL football player
Nikki Caldwell, women's basketball head coach (formerly at UCLA, now at LSU), grew up in Oak Ridge
Kenneth Lee Carder, United Methodist Church bishop
Lee Clayton, country-rock singer/songwriter best known as the writer of "Ladies Love Outlaws"
Sheldon Datz, chemist
Charlie Ergen, co-founder and CEO of EchoStar Communications Corporation, the parent company of Dish Network
Megan Fox, actress, born in Oak Ridge
John H. (Jack) Gibbons, Director of the Office of Technology Assessment and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Eugene Guth, physicist
Elaine Hendrix, actress
Otis Howard, former NBA player
Alston Scott Householder, mathematician who invented the Householder transformation
Kai-Fu Lee, Google executive
Randy McNally, Tennessee state senator
John O. Merrill, architect
Edgar Meyer, Grammy Award-winning bassist
Sarah Monette, author
Karl Z. Morgan, health physics pioneer
Ward Plummer, physicist
William G. Pollard, nuclear physicist and Episcopal priest who was the first director of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (now Oak Ridge Associated Universities) and the author of many works on the topic of Christianity and science
Mitch Rouse, actor, director and screenwriter
William Shepherd, American astronaut who served as commander of Expedition 1, the first crew on the International Space Station
Clifford Shull, Nobel Prize-winning physicist
Gore Verbinski, film director best known for his direction of Pirates of the Caribbean series
Viper (nee Stephanie Green), porn actress
Alvin Weinberg, nuclear physicist
Ed Westcott, only authorized photographer in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project
Richard White, actor, voice of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast
Eugene Wigner, Nobel Prize-winning physicist
Herbert York, nuclear physicist
Points of interest
American Museum of Science and Energy
Children's Museum of Oak Ridge
East Tennessee Technology Park, formerly known as the K-25 site
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), U.S. Department of Energy
United Church, The Chapel on the Hill
University of Tennessee Arboretum
The Oak Ridge Story,
The Oak Ridge story; the saga of a people who share in history
The Secret City
City of Oak Ridge official website
Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau
Oak Ridge, Tennessee at the Open Directory Project
Historic photos of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project
Posted by Palmer at 3:51 PM