In the early 1940s, while the Germans struggled to find the fuel source for a weapon that would give them the ultimate power, the United States was looking for a site in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee to build a top-secret city that would be used to create the world’s first atomic bomb. They found 60,000 acres in the mountains of East Tennessee to build a Secret City for the sole purpose of enriching uranium, which was the main ingredient in the atomic bomb.
The city grew virtually overnight to include 300 miles of roads, 55 miles of railroad track, 10 schools, 7 theaters, 17 restaurants and cafeterias, 13 supermarkets, a library with 9,400 books, a symphony orchestra, sporting facilities, church services for 17 denominations, and prefabricated modular homes, apartments, and dormitories. The jobs were compartmentalized to discourage discussion about the Manhattan Project. Spouses, friends and neighbors were forbidden to discuss what they did at work with anyone. The majority of the workers learned about their role in building the atomic bomb after the war ended. The city stayed behind the gates until 1949.
Today, the city’s secret past is on display throughout the city. You can start your discovery of the secret at the American Museum of Science and Energy, which provides an overview of the city’s wartime past. You can also visit A.K. Bissell Park, home of the Secret City Commemorative Walk, which honors those who came to Oak Ridge during the war.
When you visit Oak Ridge, TN, be sure to make some time to explore the many other exciting things to do in Oak Ridge as well, such as rent a kayak from Adventures Outdoors to take out on Melton Hill Lake, browse artwork at Oak Ridge Art Center, or go mountain biking at Haw Ridge Park! There is plenty of things to do in Oak Ridge for history buffs, outdoor lovers, and all types of visitors. While you’re there, be sure to check out the best places to stay in Oak Ridge, TN and the best places to eat!