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Places of My Life Family travel

A Road Trip I Would Love to Take

An old family friend (actually she’s more of Mom’s friend but that’s a whole other story) is kind of estranged from what’s left of her family (that’s a big part of the story) and because of that and other things in her past that were beyond her control doesn’t seem to have many friends or even a decent boyfriend.  One family member she does have and could/wants to visit runs an Airbnb called Happy’s Bus Stop in Kanab, Utah (UT). 

If I decided to accompany this person to that place, I have already suggested to my only remaining high school friend who now lives in Tucson, Arizona (AZ), that we could also visit her oldest daughter in nearby (to Happy’s) Northern AZ.  This daughter teaches school on the Native/Indian reservation that is close to where she lives in Page, AZ. 

I have been in the Kanab area before.  It is just over an hour away from St. George, UT.  St. George is the first city over the state line between Nevada (NV) and UT heading north on Interstate Highway 15 (I-15).  I have made the 28-hour round trip between Los Angeles and Malad, Idaho (ID), more times than I would care to count.  Malad is where my in-laws lived and we made at least one annual trek up there when the kids were growing up and we were still living in Southern California (CA).

The closest I ever got to Kanab, though, was on one of the few very enjoyable side trips we took when Malad was the family’s final destination. This was during the first year after we’d moved to Nashville when we rented a family van and drove there from the Southeast instead of the usual Southwest point of origin.  By that time, when the kids were in their teens, they were so tired of visiting national parks (Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks were two side trips we’d made more than once when “visiting Grandma in the desert”) that after driving through Zion National Park (between St George and Kanab), they protested that they were beginning to think all national parks looked the same!

On that once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, though, the idiot (my ex husband) got the biggest kick out of fishing for trout with our two girls on semi-frozen Panguitch Lake.  Neither he nor I had heard of this place till I found it as one of the stopover points that offered places to stay in the middle of winter!  Since Daughter #2 is more like her dad, we’d expected she’d take to fishing with as much gusto as he did.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that Daughter #1 was the one with the patience required to actually catch a fish.  In hindsight, this early father-daughter bonding with #1 may have been the initiating event of her rise in his eyes and affections.

Given that I-15 runs through Las Vegas, I have been there many, many times – before, during and after marriage and motherhood.  It is also a pretty central point on this potential upcoming road trip with interim end points of Tucson and possibly even as far north as Gunnison, UT, the ancestral home of my high school friend.  I heard so much about it during those years that if I get that close to it again, especially with my friend and her family’s fond memories and enduring presence there, I must finally make that pilgrimage!

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divorce Places of My Life Update

How many times have I left my Comfort Zone since I Started Over?

So many times that it would be hard to limit it to just the last time

This limitation was proposed/imposed by Bloganuary

So first off, everything on my About page was out of my comfort zone because I was doing all of it for the very first time!

I’ll start with the obvious. Mom has been under somebody else’s roof and care since the beginning of June. The never-ending divorce finally did get there, officially and hopefully forever, as of about the end of November. Both of these events really marked the end of a lot of my personal responsibilities and stressors. As a result, I have been both able and forced to figure out what I want to do with all my free time and space. My choices, for good or ill, have been limited by the biggest ongoing personal and global responsibility and stressor for all of us this year – COVID.

I don’t know where or when I will hopefully land at least semi-permanently somewhere soon, so there’s not much point in buying stuff that isn’t perishable or to think about living anywhere but here, though I did get an offer to purchase this old house!  Where would I go and what would I want to take with me?  I don’t have to make those decisions yet but if travel gets safer and easier again, I am already thinking about and starting to plan a “snow bird’s” tour of places I at least would like to visit and might even consider living in to keep away from cold Kalamazoo winters! 

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com
Photo by Jack Bulmer on Pexels.com

I have friends who live in different places and have already been warned that I might be coming their way.  So far I’m already thinking about St. Louis, Albuquerque and Tucson for sure.  Other possibilities include Boston, Florida, North and South Carolina and the DC area. If any readers here might like to join me, or can think of other places to add to my list, you are more than welcome.

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Places of My Life

Why do I want to live in a city that has a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator?

More of what I did that made me happy when I lived in the place where I was happiest.

I can’t remember where I picked up for the first time a strange small booklet that laid out a quite confusing driving tour of Oak Ridge.  Turned out one of the reasons it was so confusing is that the topography of the area (valleys separated by hills) conformed to the purpose of its design to keep all the different development areas separated and secret from each other. These factors also kept all the housing areas separated even though they all required similar facilities to maintain the functions of daily and family life. 

The city ended up with five downtown areas, most of which are now rundown and for the most part sadly closed down except of course schools and churches! The driving tour booklet was so outdated that it included some of those closed places which added to my confusion so I worked with the ORCVB president and other members to get it updated, modernized and republished which finally happened just before I left!

My first visit to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge (CMOR) also came just before I left town.  That visit was timed to the official opening of the Oak Ridge headquarters of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in that building when the museum also offered free admission. I hadn’t visited earlier since I didn’t have any young children to take there so I was quite surprised to discover many of its permanent exhibits also educated adults on Oak Ridge history. CMOR’s website page on “The Manhattan Project” summarizes a good part of what I saw there in my first short visit.

Oak Ridge was built as a planned community, with dormitories, apartments and prefabricated houses, and featured amenities such as restaurants, a library, churches, medical facilities, and clubs and organizations of all kinds. Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge’s “Difficult Decisions” and “Manhattan Project” exhibits house many artifacts from the period and help tell the story of Oak Ridge.

The most fascinating parts of CMOR for me were (1) the very extensive exhibit of area Girl Scouts with some of the troops that started when the city did still very active (2) another Ed Westcott gallery and (3) a re-creation of a room of one of the “Alphabet Houses” to show kids today how small houses used to be! I was so proud that Girl Scouts had been established and retained more importance there than Boy Scouts!

I joined several book groups and a couple of them both read and discussed The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan.  Among the “girls” the author met while doing her research in Oak Ridge was Virginia Coleman Spivey.  Virginia came to town in WWII as a scientist, as did Lianne Russell.  I met both of these highly educated and motivated and liberated for their times ladies in a memoir writing class.  Unfortunately, both passed before they could put pen to paper. 

There were already a range of articles written about Lianne and her achievements.  I had to pry shy Virginia’s story out of her so I could summarize it for a series of articles in the local paper.  Later, I wrote another article about another liberated for her times woman I knew, who happened to be the leader of one of those book groups!  The last article I did was to tout an upcoming ORHPA speaker, another woman who also happened to be the Program Manager at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.  Learned as she was, Lydia Simpson shared the irrational fear that Oak Ridge was radioactive but still agreed to come to town for a tour.  As I’d expected, throughout our afternoon with Ray Smith, Lydia’s appreciation for all the aspects of what had gone on in town increased exponentially.

Links to the articles I wrote that were published can be found here. Scroll through the dates and you’ll find the ones I wrote: 6/8-7/26/17; 10/25/17; 1/10 & 1/17/18.

I’m also not sure where and when I first learned about the “Alphabet Houses” but, given the diversity of the people who lived in town, I was most intrigued by the development philosophy employed by its military governors in directing its layout by a civilian design company

The town site was in the northeast corner of the reservation, a strip less than one mile wide and six miles long with hilly terrain descending from the Black Oak Ridge in the north. Architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) envisioned pleasant neighborhood communities with libraries, schools and shopping centers.  Rather than performing time-consuming grading, houses were adjusted to fit the contours of the land. Most of Oak Ridge’s kitchens faced the street to minimize the length of plumbing and utility lines.

Original plans called for the military reservation to house approximately 13,000 people in prefabricated housing, trailers, and wood dormitories. Town planners were originally to provide housing for an estimated 30,000 people. By the time the Manhattan (Project) headquarters were moved from Washington, DC to Tennessee in the summer of 1943, estimates for the town of Oak Ridge had been revised upward to 45,000 people. By 1945, the population had reached 75,000 and by the end of the war, Oak Ridge was the fifth largest city in Tennessee.

Materials were in short supply, so the first houses were built of prefabricated panels of cement and asbestos or cemesto board. They were known as “alphabet houses” because each of the handful of home designs was assigned a letter of the alphabet. There were small, two bedroom “A” houses, “C” houses with extra bedrooms, “D” houses with a dining room, and so forth for a total of 3,000 cemesto-type homes. Later, thousands of prefabricated houses were sent to Oak Ridge in sections complete with walls, floors, room partitions, plumbing and wiring. Workers turned over 30 or 40 houses to occupants each day.

Atomic Heritage Foundation – Locations – Oak Ridge, TN

In a town that was the developed by the government, I was surprised to learn it was actually built pretty quickly and efficiently. This revelation led to an exhibit titled Secret Cities – The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project on display May 3, 2018 – July 28, 2019 in the National Building Museum that became the central focus of a visit I made with a friend to Washington, D.C., just before the exhibit closed.

As a fan of HGTV programs I have learned just enough to make me dangerous if/when I might ever encounter a new (to me) home that I wanted to remodel.  Many of the programs talk about load bearing walls and how expensive they are to replace when remodeling.  So, imagine my excitement when I learned that Oak Ridge’s historic and unique Alphabet Houses have no load bearing walls!  I was ready to redo and release a few to the young people I hope will be coming to work in Oak Ridge so they can preserve and revitalize the place where I was so happy.  I want a new generation to live and work in this Secret City, to keep it current and relevant as a source of information in what I consider to have been the setting for a great social experiment. I know they would make more fascinating history there!

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Places of My Life

Why do I want to live in a city that has a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator?

This is what I did that made me happy when I lived in the place where I was happiest.

During the short time that I worked in Oak Ridge, I didn’t learn a lot more about its history until my employer co-sponsored an event at what may be Oak Ridge’s biggest claim to fame, the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE).  I took advantage of this free opportunity to look at all the exhibits, the biggest and best of which introduced me to the history of Oak Ridge and The Manhattan Project.  The most interesting and salient points of “The Oak Ridge Story” were laid out as a timeline supplemented by copies or reproductions of artifacts that filled in the details of how it all had come to be and a lot of what it looked like back in the day.

From there, I took a long and wide road to discovering my interest in historic preservation in a pretty short time.  I probably started by looking at news and stuff in the long running and now nearly defunct local newspaper for leads and then most likely followed up with stops in the city, county and college libraries nearby which probably got me to places like local stores and restaurants and even to city hall.  After all of this I reached the conclusion that, at least from my perspective, most of the best parts of Oak Ridge were still kind of secret, and decided to do what I could to rectify that situation.

I became a Board member of the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau (ORCVB) and developed a particular interest in restoring as much as possible the existing stock of the city’s historic buildings. I joined the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association after I found out that my neighbor was one of the founders and president of this nonprofit whose purpose is

to preserve and educate the public about Oak Ridge’s unique and rich technical and cultural history, and to work to preserve selected historical buildings of the WWII city…ORHPA awards a Historic Preservation Award annually. The award is given to a public-use facility that reflects guidelines outlined for historic preservation in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The award is presented on September 19th-the date in 1942 that General Leslie Groves chose Oak Ridge as the site for the Manhattan Project processing plants.

https://oakridgeheritage.com/

ORHPA’s meeting place (and repository of other pertinent info it has collected since its founding) is located in the Midtown Community Center which was itself a Historic Preservation Award winner.  The building, located now in what I think of as the heart of Oak Ridge, was completed near the end of the war and gained its most popular moniker in 1951 when it became the “Wildcat Den”, a hangout spot for students at nearby Oak Ridge High School.  I never even entered this building until I became a member of ORCVB which was located at one end of the building at the time. I had already driven by it countless times by then and never even noticed any of the signage around it, directional or otherwise.

Even before it officially became the Oak Ridge History Museum, the glass cases in the Wildcat Den, in the big meeting room that housed the dances then and where meetings happen today, held a lot of memorabilia from the times that I barely remember as a child in the 1950s and 60s.  That was all there was until ORHPA and other longtime citizens gathered their own personal collections in the museum to shine a light on the “human side” of the Manhattan Project, focusing on history and people’s day-to-day lives during World War II (and really the decade or two after as well).

Photo possibly taken in the Wildcat Den possibly by Ed Westcott

All of my personal introduction to Oak Ridge’s fascinating real-life history is now combined in The Oak Ridge History Museum since it received or purchased and now displays 100 items from the American Museum of Science and Energy.  Circling back to what got me into this pursuit I can still see the timeline of Oak Ridge’s history, displays about the founding of Oak Ridge and the largest collection of original Ed Westcott (official Manhattan Project photographer and one of the first hires in Oak Ridge) photography available.

Narration by D. Ray Smith, Official Oak Ridge City Historian and my personal hero!
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Places of My Life

Why do I want to live in a city that has a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator?

This is where I lived most happily for the most part for most of the last ten years.

Have you ever heard of the “Secret City” Oak Ridge, Tennessee?  I had barely heard of it myself before I pursued a job opening there after my first very unhappy period of retirement (2006-11).  Most of what I knew about it came from what I could read on the highway signs along Interstate 40 which may have included “passing” mentions of the town’s nickname and the Manhattan Project.  I may have looked it up in Wikipedia before the job interview; it’s introduced there thusly:

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.

That last sentence was what brought me there for a job but what I learned beyond that about this place, succinctly summarized in the first sentence, is a big part of why I wanted to stay and why I want to live in a city that has a Historic Preservation Coordinator or, as in the case of Oak Ridge, an official city historian.

Oak Ridge was instrumental in the United States win over Nazi Germany but when the U.S. government purchased nearly 90 square miles of mostly rural farmland, narrow valleys separated by ridged and rolling hills, in 1942, it did not appear on any map even though, by the end of WWII, it was the fifth-largest city in the state! In addition to being the new headquarters of the Manhattan Project after it was moved from its point of origin in the original Manhattan (New York City), it became the place of employment of nearly 100,000 people and the place of residence of 75,000 people, including Project employees and their families.

Oak Ridge today carries on the legacy of those fateful years so long ago. Several highly-secured nuclear research facilities still exist in the community and the city is home to a wealth of historic sites that tell the remarkable story of the Manhattan Project and the dawn of the atomic age.

Oak Ridge is now one of three sites of the recently established Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  I fortuitously retired right before the park officially opened and unfortunately had to leave before many of the real historic sites, along with new museums to augment them, would officially reopen.