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Hometown Spotlight: Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge is full of history, science, innovation and ideas. It's known as "The Secret City" and "The Atomic City" for its nuclear involvement in World War II.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Oak Ridge is a city born out of an American need for nuclear reinforcements. It has long been the center of innovation, science, experiments and knowledge.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, Oak Ridge didn't exist.

Almost 70 years ago, the U.S. government purchased rural farmland and rapidly built the city of Oak Ridge, known as "The Secret City." During that time, it wasn't listed on maps.

It played a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project, which was an American-led effort to develop a functional atomic weapon during World War II.

Just two and a half years later, the Secret City skyrocketed to a population of 75,000, making it the fifth-largest city in Tennessee at the time.

Oak Ridge is home to science, with three facilities built in 1943: K-25, Y-12 and X-10.

K-25 is also referred to as the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, enriched uranium. Today, it is the Eastern Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP).

Y-12 separated uranium using an electromagnetic process.

X-10, also referred to as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, converted uranium into plutonium.

You can't think of Oak Ridge without thinking of science, energy and engineering. The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge captures just that.

AMSE hosts plenty of events, experiments and learning opportunities.

For decades, Jackson Square has been the hub for all things Oak Ridge. There's something to see and at every turn, from Big Ed's Pizza, Through the Looking Glass Antiques and Collectibles, to Razzleberry's Ice Cream Lab and Kitchen.

Jackson Square used to be called Town Site, according to Southern Bliss Boutique Owner Denise Parton.

The Farmer's Market is every Saturday at Jackson Square.

For nearly six decades, the Oak Ridge Playhouse has also called Jackson Square home. The Playhouse opened in 1943 and is one of the continuously operated community theater in the Southeast. 

It began as the Little Theater of Oak Ridge. It moved to Jackson Square in 1956 with a 315 seat auditorium.

Oak Ridge also has plenty of outdoor options to offer. People walk, run and bike on the greenways, while others head to Melton Hill Lake for rowing and boating.

The United States Rowing Masters National Championships happen in Oak Ridge, with more than one thousand rowers.

The Oak Ridge 85 is a big part of history in the area that shouldn't be forgotten. 

In September 1955, 85 Black students from the historic Scarboro community in Oak Ridge became the first to integrate a public school in the Southeast. There's more info about the group from WBIR's series, the "Secret in Scarboro"

RELATED: The Secret in Scarboro: The Oak Ridge 85

Learning is a big part of life in Oak Ridge, and that starts from an early age. The Children's Museum of Oak Ridge makes learning fun with all sorts of exhibits and activities.

It's also the site of the National Park's Manhattan Project information booth.

Ed Westcott was the official Manhattan Project photographer during the war. 

In 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers hired Westcott as the only photographer to document life inside the then-secret community of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project of World War II.

Born in Chattanooga in 1922, Westcott's love of photography started at an early age. Westcott died in March of 2019.

While many in Oak Ridge are proud of the role the Secret City played  in helping to end World War II, there is an everlasting sign of peace in the city. 

The Friendship Bell sits in Bissell Park. The bell is 8,000 pounds of bronze, with images that symbolize the peace and friendship shared by Japan and Oak Ridge.

One special story from the Secret City is the story of the "Calutron Girls."

They were a group of young women who monitored and maintained the mass spectrometers at the Y-12 uranium enrichment plant.

They had no idea what they were doing, but in reality they were changing the course of human history.

There are many businesses that call Oak Ridge home, and one of them is a relatively new coffee shop with a blend of caffeine and charisma. Two New York City musicians own Bud's Farmhouse Coffee. 

It's a way for them to offer good coffee to the people of Oak Ridge while also combining their love of music.


With a rich history and promising future, Oak Ridge is building on the past to create an educated path ahead.

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