For the sparse residents who called Oak Ridge their home from time immemorial, it couldn’t have been more of a shock when they were suddenly asked to leave the area. In 1942, the rural community of Oak Ridge, Tennessee suddenly found that a town had sprung up around them in the middle of the night without rhyme or reason. Behind the sleek new buildings, however, there was a big secret. They never could have guessed the real reason why this town appeared.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee was situated on 60,000 acres of land with only about 3,000 residents spread throughout the area. For those who lived there, Oak Ridge was a small farming community populated by wood cabins and neighborly people. Nothing interesting ever occurred in Oak Ridge, so when one by one they began to receive eviction notices, the inhabitants couldn’t imagine what it was that drew attention to their tiny town. There was more to the story than almost anyone knew.
On The Government’s Watch
For those who wanted to resist the evictions, they would eventually discover that they were ordered by none other than the United States government. There was no fighting it, and those who moved were given compensation packages. However, it seemed that they’d barely cleared out of their houses when there was an influx of new residents. Where they came from was as mysterious as to why. It was even a mystery to those who were now moving in…
Emerging From The Forest
Suddenly, Oak Ridge was alive with activity. There was around the clock construction taking place, as massive complexes took over the once sparsely populated land. Before all of this was built, the area had simply been known as Bear Creek Valley. But with the completion of this new town, it was renamed Oak Ridge. No one knew exactly why it had been built, and those who did know weren’t planning on telling anytime soon. Even so, Oak Ridge wasn’t included on a single map.
With the new structures complete, the only thing the newly established Oak Ridge needed was people to live there. Surprisingly, this wasn’t a difficult task, as thousands of new residents made their way to the secret town in the middle of nowhere. Despite its remote location and mysterious origins, the completed Oak Ridge was as modern as they came in 1943, even boasting such amenities as a movie theater, a library, restaurants, and a gym. It was all a facade for something more.
Keeping Others Out
If the circumstances surrounding Oak Ridge’s creation weren’t bizarre enough, the picture was soon complete when the community was surrounded by a gate and a guard. Exclusive communities weren’t unheard of at the time, but they weren’t very common, especially for a place that appeared to otherwise be middle class. For the outsiders, the new town blatantly advertised that it was only for those with authorization. The air of secrecy that surrounded Oak Ridge only continued to build.
Cloaking An Industry
For anyone who lived near this new town, they would have become even more suspicious about Oak Ridge, as industrial sized shipments were constantly arriving to the gated community, but they didn’t seem to have anything else to export. In the meantime, the population of the new town continued to blossom. Within three years, the number of people within its borders reached nearly 75,000. What really peaked the interest of outsiders was the massive industrial complex dominating the land inside.
Cog In The Machine
Despite the difficulty one would have had in getting into Oak Ridge, the entire complex was strategically built around a network of railroad tracks, which just made it easier for those inside to receive shipments of whatever materials they needed for their work. As it turned out, even those who worked in Oak Ridge had no idea what was truly going on. They just knew they had government jobs, and the United States was in the middle of fighting a war.
Immune From The Waves
One of the most noticeable aspects about living in Oak Ridge was that the residents inside were fairly young, though they had come from all walks of life with their families in tow, but also that they seemed protected from the problems that citizens in the rest of the country were facing. In Oak Park, it seemed that there was no such thing as rationing, as there was no shortage of fresh produce and other coveted foods like there was everywhere else.
A Tell-Tale Sign
As it turns out, despite the secrecy that cloaked the lives of those who were living and working in Oak Ridge, there was one way outsiders could always tell someone had taken a break from the covert community. Their shoes were consistently covered in mud, a symptom of the fact that the town had been built in its entirety within a six month period. It was a good thing then that the people who lived there rarely ventured outside of its confines.
Sucking Them Dry
Oak Ridge may not have appeared on the map, but it began to draw attention to itself by the sheer amount of energy it was consuming, Somehow, the unassuming little town became the fifth biggest user of energy in the state. The town was using so many resources, accounting for one-seventh of all the electricity used throughout the entire United States. For the few aware of this statistic, it made them even more curious about what was going on.
It’s not uncommon for governments to keep information hidden from the public, but rarely did that information cover an entire secret town. Those who knew about Oak Ridge eventually came to believe it was some sort of secret military facility, and wanting to do their part for the war effort, they didn’t ask too many questions. As it turned out, even the people who worked there didn’t know what was really going on behind the scenes of Oak Ridge.
Doing Their Duty
There were many ways to get involved with America’s war effort during World War II without having to serve overseas. Some ended up stay on military bases working in industries that manufactured weapons and equipment for the military, while others were necessary mechanics fixing the aircraft that pilots would fly over the battlefields. Something of an entirely different nature was going on in Oak Park, but even the people working there were completely shielded from the project’s true purpose…
What Happens In Vegas
It wasn’t just that residents were kept in the dark about their work, they also were also consistently reminded to keep quiet by signs that were posted around Oak Ridge. Those managing the project knew it was imperative that no one figured out what they were trying to put together, given the situation the country was in. The ominous signs loomed above the streets at all times, a constant reminder to residents to keep their work to themselves.
Given the lack of information even those who worked in Oak Ridge had, there were a number of disparate rumors that sprang up with regards to what their ultimate result would be. Some claimed they were in the business of manufacturing synthetic rubber, but others were convinced the entire operation was dedicated to Roosevelt’s next reelection campaign, and the complex was only producing millions of campaign buttons. Neither of those rumors was anything close to the actual truth.
Flip Of A Switch
It seems nearly impossible for a population of 75,000 people to be hard at work for so many years without knowing what they were actually working towards, but given the classified nature of the project, the government was careful to only tell its employees the absolute minimum. Many worked on sophisticated switchboards, twisting and turning the components as instructed, but without actually knowing what the board was doing behind the scenes. Others were similarly isolated from other components of the operation.
Levels Of Knowledge
Oak Ridge naturally needed to employ people in a range of professions, as some were engineers, others came from the manufacturing sector, and still others were brought in simply to keep the town itself running. In order to keep track of who was who and where they were allowed to go, everyone had to wear badges within the town itself, even the singular town photographer that was allowed to document parts of the community, albeit very carefully.
Fine Fleeting Moment
There was one thing that the residents of Oak Ridge could feel distinctly, aside from the air of secrecy that shrouded their every move. In order to build enough housing to accommodate the flood of workers that would soon arrive, the housing that the overseers chose to construct had a distinctly temporary sort of vibe. Everyone who had relocated to Oak Ridge knew they likely wouldn’t be staying for very long after the war was finally over.
All For America
Surveillance around Oak Ridge was a constant factor in the workers’ lives. Not only was there signage imploring the residents to keep quiet about their day to day work, many of the signs appealed to American patriotism, which was running at an all-time high during World War II, claiming that to share details of their work with others could be helping the enemy. Even the job advertisements were purposely vague so as to keep the project under wraps.
Nerves On Edge
There wasn’t just a suggestion of keeping quiet at Oak Ridge. In addition to the cameras, guard towers, and signs, there were a number of people who were commissioned with keeping a watch on their fellow workers, silently spying on anyone who might be inclined to blab. There were four plants within the town that were especially top secret. Anyone who had higher clearance and was caught talking about their work with someone who shouldn’t have known would quietly disappear.
Following The Letter
Given the stringent rules in place around the town, it’s no surprise that the Oak Ridge residents were overall interested in following the rules. That including keeping their distance from areas that were distinctly off-limits, no matter how much they wanted to go inside. Much of the secret nature that was imbued in town life also helped to fuel paranoia. As they were otherwise protected from many of the war’s hardships, no one felt the need to rock the boat.
Putting The Pieces Together
Though the war ended in Europe in 1945, it was still raging in the Pacific, as America was freed up to focus all of its resources on the threat of the Japanese. On August 6, 1945, the world would watch as America dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed by the second on Nagasaki only a couple of days later. Americans erupted in celebration at the end of the war, but in Oak Ridge, some were still wondering how they had contributed…
Welcome To Manhattan
As it turned out, Oak Ridge was built with the purpose of being the headquarters for the Manhattan Project, whose purpose was for America to develop the first atomic bomb. The tool seemed to be a surefire means to victory, at least back when only one country might have it, hence the level of secrecy that was involved in Oak Ridge. For some, 50 years would pass before they knew the truth of their work in Oak Ridge. Either way, it was a massive contribution.