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  • Writer's pictureBrian Childress

The Atomic City - Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about 25 miles west of downtown Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 29,330 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Knoxville Metropolitan Area. Oak Ridge's nicknames include the Atomic City, the Secret City, the Ridge, and the City Behind the Fence.

In 1941, the United States federal government would purchase nearly 60,000 acres of farmland in the Clinch River Valley for the development of a planned city supporting 75,000 residents and construct the city with assistance from architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, from 1942 to 1943. Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project—the massive American, British, and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb. Being the site of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex, scientific and technological development still plays a crucial role in the city's economy and culture in general.

Two years after World War II ended, Oak Ridge was shifted to civilian control, under the authority of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The Roane Anderson Company administered community functions, including arranging housing and operating buses, under a government contract. In 1959 the town was incorporated. The community adopted a city manager and City Council form of government rather than direct federal control.

The International Friendship Bell

The International Friendship Bell is 8,000 pounds of bronze cast with images that symbolize the peace and friendship shared by Japan and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Though World War II divided the United States and Japan, two Oak Ridge citizens suggested the Japanese-style bell as a symbol of unity as Oak Ridge, born of the war, celebrated its 50th birthday in 1992-93. Ram and Shigeko Uppuluri, he from India and she from Japan, envisioned the bell as a fitting birthday memorial and as a monument to the reconciliation and peace that blossomed after the war. Their vision led to a bronze bell, nearly seven feet tall and five feet wide, designed by an Oak Ridge artist and cast by a family foundry in Kyoto, Japan. The Uppuluri family remains passionately committed to displaying the bell in the Peace Pavilion, located in A.K. Bissel Park In Oak Ridge.

Coversations/Things we learned:

If you love this country and love history, its well worth the trip. Try and combine this visit with the Nuclear Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico (the former top secret laboratory facility where the atomic bomb was developed) which are also featured on our website.

When visiting Oak Ridge, we recommend you go by the Oak Ridge History Museum first and get a guide map which will take you to the various sites in the town which feature the history of the Atomic City.

There are still several operational government facilities in Oak Ridge so was ask that everyone please respect the privacy and security requirements of these institutions.

Contact Information:

Oak Ridge History Museum

102 Robertsville Road

Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830

Phone: (865) 576-6767

American Museum of Energy and Science

115 E Main St, Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Phone: (865) 294-4531

Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge

461 W. Outer Drive

Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830

Phone: (865) 482-1074


World War 2 Security Checkpoint


Oakridge History Museum - The community center is a piece of Oak Ridge history in itself, having been constructed during 1944 and 1945. The building has gone through many iterations throughout the years, serving as a bathhouse and laundry, a hangout for students, a senior center, and the Oak Ridge Convention & Visitors Bureau.


K-25 Plant Overlook and Visitor Center - The K-25 building of the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant aerial view, looking southeast. The mile-long building, in the shape of a "U", was completely demolished in 2013.

(Contributed photo - photo of plant in 1940s)


International Friendship Bell at Bissell Park


The American Museum of Science and Energy


Other Oak Ridge Buildings reflecting their heritage


Scarborough Community Center - The Scarboro Community Center is a centerpiece of the historic Scarboro community. During the Manhattan Project, all housing was segregated by rank and race. The African American population at Oak Ridge lived in segregated hutments, sparse, drafty, one-room wooden structures that did not include a bathroom.


Homes which were built during the Manhattan Project


Wheat Community African American Burial Ground - Discovered in the early 2000s, this 1850s slave cemetery is the final resting place of more than 90 unmarked graves. Believed to be part of Gallaher-Stone Plantation in what was formerly known as the Wheat Community prior to WWII's Manhattan Project that required the land now known as Oak Ridge as part of the effort to end the war.

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