Most cities proudly trace their founding back over a hundred or more years when a few settlers built homes around a crossroads and the place then grew over decades or even centuries.
But the city that now is Oak Ridge, Tennessee was built from scratch starting in the fall of 1942 (in the middle of WWII), and in less than three years, four nuclear plants, never before even conceived, were built and succeeded in producing the U-235 fuel for the first atomic bomb that helped bring peace to a world suffering from six long years of war. Their cost in today’s dollars was over $12 billion!
The over 35,000 people who built the pioneering plants and the scientists, engineers and managers who operated them had to have a city to live in, and their homes, schools, shopping centers, and infrastructure was built in less than three years. In 1945 Oak Ridge was the 5thlargest city in Tennessee but not shown on maps– a secret city not opened to the public until March 1949.
In honor of Rotary International’s (RI) hundredth birthday, the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge decided that the recognition of the remarkable efforts of its founders was long overdue, and took on the task of raising over $350,000 to create a beautiful, permanent history walk in A. K. Bissell-city park.
The Commemorative Walk
The oval walkway features ten waist-high cast bronze tablets (2’x2’) that tell the story of what was done at the plants and other main institutions of the Secret City.
A second feature is a series of eight large cast bronze historical markers; each telling what life was like for those who lived here during each of the years the city was closed to the public, hence the project’s name “The Secret City Commemorative Walk.”
The third and very important feature of the Walk are four 30ft. long ,“Founder Walls,” on which a total of 1488 bronze tablets are hung, each honoring one of the individual founders who came to work here during 1942-1949.
Daughter Kathy Sergeant with Mom and Dad’s founders plaques.
Ground was broken for the walk on Feb. 23, 2005, RI’s 100thbirthday, and it was formally dedicated and opened to an enthusiastic crowd of 700 at the Secret City Festival on June 17, 2005.
Many visitors sin the years since have remarked on the quality and appropriateness of the this project which they say has assured that the citizens, visitors, and tourists of today and future generations will not forget unique heritage and the host of beneficial legacies that have come from the work of the founders of this historic city.
The walk’s central icon is a 60 ft. in diameter Rotary wheel at whose center flies an American Flag that flew over the US Capitol on Feb. 23, 2005.