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.
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