In 2016, the Manhattan National Historical Park, a 3 state National Park, was authorized by Congress. Here in the Tennessee River Valley, one of the park sites is located in Oak Ridge , a community now known as a national research center for energy and super- computing.
The story of Oak Ridge began during WWII with the race to develop the first nuclear weapon. In 1939, the Manhattan Project began the research and development for developing the atomic bomb. Officials were seeking isolated areas that could be acquired to conduct work in secret and found that in tiny Elza, TN, a dot on the map along the L&N Railroad. In total, 60,000 acres in a 17 mile valley would be acquired and over 1000 families would be displaced. The planned city of Oak Ridge swelled with the influx of over 75,000 workers from 1942-1945, shaping the future of the Valley for future generations to come.
Known as the “Secret City”, Oak Ridge straddles two counties in Tennessee- Anderson and Roane. Long gone is the rural, agrarian way of life known to the original families who called the valley home. Like the rural families way of life, the stories of the Secret City were becoming lost. Local Historian, Ray Smith, stepped up to insure that these stories would not be lost to future generations. His work helped with developing the Manhattan National Historical Park.
While the story of the Atomic Bomb and the Enola Gay is what many people know, the story of the people and place is very moving. Visitors to the area will want to visit the American Museum of Science and Energy with its exhibit of housing built for the workers flooding into the Valley with their families, the A.K. Bissell Park Commemorative Walk, and of course, the Manhattan National Historic Park.
All of these locations are a testament to the power of the people who helped with the War Effort. Absorb the past, see the future!