Oak Ridge is the place to be for history lovers. During World War II, Oak Ridge was built under a cloak of secrecy to house thousands of workers and their families who helped develop the atomic bomb. Now, the Secret City offers countless opportunities for visitors to dig deeper into the past. From museums to monuments, there are plenty of ways to soak up the history of the city when you visit. Here are the 6 best places to go to explore the history of Oak Ridge TN:
1. American Museum of Science and Energy
When you want to learn more about Oak Ridge’s history, there is no better place to start than the American Museum of Science and Energy. The museum teaches you how 75,000 people kept a secret during World War II. You will learn about the Manhattan Project and how Oak Ridge was constructed, as well as how the technology developed in Oak Ridge has shaped our nation. The museum is currently in the process of moving locations, but it is expected to reopen in the fall of 2018!
When you visit AMSE, you’ll definitely want to experience one of the Department of Energy’s guided bus tours! The tour includes highlights of the history of Oak Ridge and the history of science and technology at the 3 U.S. DOE/Oak Ridge facilities. Stops along the tour include the Y-12 New Hope Visitor Center, the Graphite Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and more. Until the museum reopens in the fall, the bus tour departs from the New Hope Center. AMSE is currently moving and will reopen at it’s new location on the northeast side of Main Street Oak Ridge on October 1st. There will be a grand-opening ceremony on October 18.
2. Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge
If you have kids or are just a kid at heart, you will love the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge! This museum teaches you about the Appalachian heritage of East Tennessee and the history of Oak Ridge in a unique and hands-on way. It provides children with the opportunity to learn while having fun in interactive exhibit galleries. Some of the highlights of the museum include the Waterworks Exhibit, where children can find out what it’s like to run a tugboat on the Tennessee River, and The Dollhouse, which is a two-story dollhouse that children can actually go inside and play!
3. Secret City Commemorative Walk
The Secret City Commemorative Walk is a memorial dedicated to the men and women who came to Oak Ridge during WWII when it wasn’t even found on any maps. The memorial is located in Bissell Park and features an oval walkway with 10 bronze plaques that explain Oak Ridge’s role in the war. There are also 8 bronze markers that show what life was like for the people who lived in the city before it was open to the public. At the end of the walk, there are four 30-foot-long “Founder Walls,” which show the 1,488 original founders who came to Oak Ridge during 1942-1949.
4. K-25 Interpretive Center
When you visit the K-25 Interpretive Center, you will view the historic site of the Manhattan Project! To learn more, you can also check out the K-25 Virtual Museum, which tells the story of the facility and its contributions to defense, energy and technology advancements through the 1990s. The website includes a tour where you can “walk” through decades of skyline changes, get a glimpse of daily life in the construction camp known as Happy Valley, and catch a sneak preview of the preservation efforts to commemorate the Manhattan Project site.
5. International Friendship Bell
The International Friendship Bell was the first monument between a U.S. Manhattan Project city and Japan. It serves as an expression of hope for everlasting peace, and you can go see it! The bell is 8,000 pounds of bronze cast with images that symbolize the friendship between Oak Ridge and Japan. It is not only viewed as a symbol of peace, but as a symbol of a future being created by the increasing scientific and technological advances that benefit the world.
6. Historic Jackson Square
Jackson Square is the original Townsite of Oak Ridge. During the war, Jackson Square was open 24 hours a day as a gathering spot for off-duty workers in the Secret City. Today, it is as vibrant as ever! There is everything from shops, to delicious restaurants, to live entertainment! It’s the perfect way to celebrate both the history of Oak Ridge TN and the present.
After you explore the history of Oak Ridge, take some time to try some of the other exciting activities in the city. Browse all the things to do in Oak Ridge, then start planning your visit!