seehearhere (191K)
The Secret City - Oak Ridge, Tennessee

In 1942, the United States federal government needed a site that had a small population and was accessible by both highway and rail, and had utilities such as water and electricity. The valley that held the rural areas; Edgemoor and Elza in the northeast, East Fork and Wheat in the southwest, Robertsville in the west, and Bethel and Scarboro in the southeast seemed an ideal site since Norris Dam's recent completion. The Manhattan Project, a military program under the leadership of Major Leslie Groves who selected the site, was established within the 17-mile-long (27 km) valley. The ridges provided natural borders between the site and the outside world. Workers were told that the three major plants, K25, Y12 and X10 were built to help in the production of weapons that would be used in the war.

Major Groves (2K) norris-dam-state-park (114K) K25bldg (4K)
In the beginning, the area near the construction of K25 was called Happy Valley and those who came to work there lived in hutments, if they were single men, and in small trailers, if they were married with families. Workers came from all over to participate in the war effort. Work went on 24 hours and the different shifts with a variety of times for coming to and leaving work also helped keep the town a secret. Workers rode buses to and from work and the number of buses used for this was one of the largest bus forces in the nation at this time. CEW-Housing-Hutment (133K)
Elza-Gate-MP-1945- (116K) The Manhattan Project area, commonly known as the settlement, grew from a population of 3,000 to 75,000 by 1945. The name "Oak Ridge" was chosen for the settlement in 1943 from among suggestions submitted by project employees. The name related to the settlement's location along Black Oak Ridge, and officials thought the rural-sounding name "held outside curiosity to a minimum." The name wasn't formally adopted until 1949, and the site was referred to as the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) until then. All workers wore badges. The town was surrounded by guard towers and a fence with seven gates. If you left or entered Oak Ridge, you had to go through a gate and badges had to be shone to the guards to leave or return.

At the end of the war, the people, except those who had always known, living in Oak Ridge found out just how much they played in the war effort. Then and only then did they learn about the atomic bomb and their part in the making of it. One of the stories that show this is the one about employees of K25. There was always more work than could get done in the regular shifts, so many, many workers worked overtime. Those working overtime at K25 decided that they wanted to do more to help with the war effort so they decided to give the money earned on Sundays to purchase a B25j bomber for the air force. After purchasing it, the name Sunday Punch was painted on the side, a dedication day was held at the McGhee Tyson Base in Knoville and then it was flown into the war. It was also at this time that Oak Ridge was no longer a secret. The world knew what had happened in this small valley in Tennessee.

christeningsun.punchbombr (12K) b25 bomber (14K) sun.punchbombr (14K)

To know more of the unique story of the bomber once it left the hills of east Tennessee, click here

dhouse (14K) The city of Oak Ridge grew rapidly at this time. Following the contours of Black Oak Ridge, the town was a narrow strip less than one mile wide and six miles long. SOM, the engineering company, designed 3,000 prefabricated houses made from "cemesto," a cement-asbestos board. The houses were shipped from a factory in Indiana complete with walls, floors, room partitions, interior wiring, plumbing and furniture. The homes quickly took on the name cemesto and are still referred by most Oak Ridgers as that. The cemesto home are denoted by letters of the alphabet ranging from A to G based on the difference in the external shape of the house and most of the homes are still standing and being lived in today. Many look very different inside because any and all inside walls can be remove because of the unique feature that the load bearing walls are the outside walls. The homes were quickly installed along streets that followed the natural contours of the hills. Another type of house built were TDUs, Twin Duplex Units, and the one dwelling was divided into two seperate homes. You will find these in what was then the western part of the then Oak Ridge. Today, the majority of these have been turned into houses for only one family. At this time, the Army and its contractors tried desperately to keep up with the rapid influx of workers and their families, services always lagged behind demand. By the end of the war Oak Ridge was the fifth largest city in Tennessee and consuming 1/7 of the electrical power produced in United States. Bhouse40 (19K)
flattop (24K) Lastly, another house was the flattop. These houses were another Oak Ridge homes that were prefabs and assembled in the town, not built. Many of these houses have been converted from flattops to gabled roofs. Looking around Oak Ridge today, you can still find all of these homes. Living in Oak Ridge at this time was different in many aspects. One of the ways was that the government decided when your house needed to be painted and had a force of workers that did the painting. Choices of colors were limited. Bathroom and kitchens were white, bedrooms were pink or blue and living rooms are remembered as being grey. Until 1958, all property in the city was owned by the government. At that time, homes went up for sale and at least two-thirds of the homes were bought by those that had lived in them for years. trailer (31K)

Whether it was a settlement, the Clinton Engineering Works or Oak Ridge, there were a wide range of cultural and social activities offered. The people who lived in the city came from all levels of society. It was once said that at one point 1 out of every 4 adults in Oak Ridge held a PhD. The government of Oak Ridge offered many of the social activities that would have been found in other cities. There were dances, bands, choruses, plays, athletic games of softball, football, tennis clubs, swimming competitions, clubs such as Rotary, bridge, knitting, etc and many other activities and events.


opening gates (21K) In 1949, the gates to the city were opened with celebration and ceremony. People from all over East Tennessee and most everyone in the city as well as government officials and Hollywood stars came to watch or participate in the festivities. A new era was a beginning for the city, gatesopening1949 (25K)

All pictures on this page were taken by Ed Westcott, the official photographer of the Manhattan Project.

Click here to learn more about Ed Westcott

To learn more about Oak Ridge, click here

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