Discover Oak Ridge, TN

There is something for everyone in the 'Secret City.'

By
Kevin Litwin
On Friday, July 23, 2021 - 15:00
Oak Ridge, TN

Shhhh…it’s a secret! Well, not anymore. Created to be the home base for the Manhattan Project during WWII, this once-secret city is now thriving, offering residents affordable housing, high quality schools, outstanding outdoor activities and plenty of career opportunities.

If you're looking for a new place to call home, here are some glimpses into why you should consider relocating to Oak Ridge, TN.

 

Centered on Creativity

As a longtime member of the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Oak Ridge Art Center (ORAC) has played a key role in the community since the organization formed in 1952, further adding to the region’s unique flair. The center’s programs, galleries and studios serve about 50,000 visitors each year, and the ORAC staff is involved in several annual festivals hosted throughout Oak Ridge.

The center has a permanent collection of artworks as well as rotating exhibits. Recent special showings include Metamorphosis IV: Recycle to Art, Women’s Work: On the Bright Side and Bits ’n Pieces Quilting Highlights. In addition to Anderson and Roane, the ORAC attracts people from a number of surrounding counties.

Oak Ridge, TN
Nathan Lambrecht

Exhibit A

First conceived as a Girl Scout project, the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge opened in 1973 in the library of the former Jefferson Junior High School.

In 1974, it was moved to the former Highland View Elementary School, where it still operates. The building was constructed in 1944 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 54,000-square-foot building features 25 former classrooms and is outfitted with numerous interactive exhibits.

Some of the most popular displays are The Rainforest, Model Trains, At Home in Appalachia, The Bird Room, The Dollhouse, A Century of Toys and The 1930s Schoolroom. The museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023.

Secrets and Science

Oak Ridge earned its nickname “The Secret City” due to its hush-hush involvement in the Manhattan Project, but the element of mystery has not yet left the region. A facility that still thrives today where classified scientific and engineering innovation is involved is the Y-12 National Security Complex. It retrieves and stores nuclear materials, fuels the nation’s naval reactors and performs complementary work for other government and private-sector entities.

Oak Ridge, TN
U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management

Code Name K-25

Oak Ridge played a key role in the Manhattan Project, a government-run mission to research, develop and deploy atomic weapons to help end World War II.

Constructing an atomic bomb required large amounts of uranium or plutonium. Deciding to give both a try, scientists working on the project built nuclear reactors for each element. The uranium reactor was built in Oak Ridge, while the plutonium reactor was built in Washington. K-25 was the code name given to the top-secret program that featured local scientists producing the enriched uranium.

To showcase their achievements, a new K-25 History Center opened in 2020 on the second floor of the city’s existing Oak Ridge Fire Station Number 4. With its motto “Sharing America’s Biggest Secret,” the center features interactive galleries and an on-site theater that further highlights the K-25 accomplishments.

Turning Back the Clock

Want to dig a little deeper into Oak Ridge’s past and the people who used to call it home? The new Oak Ridge History Museum has just what you are looking for – it shines a light on the “human side” of people’s day-to-day lives during the time of the Manhattan Project.

The museum features many artifacts and a large collection of 1940s and 1950s photographs. Also on display is a model of the city’s still-standing United Church, Chapel on the Hill that was shared by residents of all religious denominations.

Another feature is a 1945 map of the city as well as a telephone switchboard from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

Oak Ridge, TN
RF Welton

Get the 4-1-1 on Oak Ridge

  • Festive Occasions: Annual festivals held here include Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival, a Fourth of July celebration (pictured above), the Secret City Festival, a Summer Sessions Concert Series, the Oak Ridge Christmas Parade, the Nine Lakes Wine Festival, the Lavender Festival and the United Way’s Taste of Anderson County.
  • Safe and Secure: Roane State Community College, which has been serving the region for more than 20 years, now offers national cybersecurity defense classes at its Oak Ridge campus.
  • It's Elementary! In 2010, a new periodic table element was discovered by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University. It was named Tennessine to recognize their collaboration. Its chemical symbol is Ts.
  • Let Friendships Ring: Visit A.K. Bissell Park and gaze at the seven-foot-tall, 8,000-pound Oak Ridge International Friendship Bell, which celebrates the relationship between Oak Ridge and its sister city in Japan.
  • Celebrating Diversity: Thanks to its renowned research assets, Oak Ridge is a diverse community that draws talent from all over the globe. Plus, about 60% of the visitors to the region are made up of businesspeople from around the world.
  • The Main Attraction: Main Street in Oak Ridge has seen a major resurgence. More than $100 million has been invested in the center of town, creating an uptick in retail and more shops for folks to peruse. Main Street is growing in popularity as a place to live and work.
  • Feast Away: From upscale cuisine to down-home favorites like catfish cakes and country ham, Oak Ridge patrons have choices from more than 60 independent restaurants.

If you'd like to learn more about the Oak Ridge area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Oak Ridge, TN​​​​​​​

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.