Oak Ridge (population 27,387) was built under a cloak of secrecy during World War II as a major site of the Manhattan Project, the massive wartime effort that produced the world’s first atomic weapons. After the war, Oak Ridge transitioned from a “temporary” military town into an independent city and became self-governing in 1959.
Three of the Department of Energy’s “signature facilities” are located in Oak Ridge: the K-25 Uranium Enrichment Facility; the Beta Calutron Facility; and the Graphite Reactor, a National Historic Landmark. Oak Ridge’s historic neighborhoods feature housing originally constructed for wartime workers and World War II-era commercial buildings.
While the local economy is still driven by federal government employment, heritage tourism is an expanding industry. The Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a driving tour of key historic sites and stresses Oak Ridge’s heritage assets in marketing the community. A recent two-year planning effort funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development resulted in a community-based heritage tourism master plan that is now being implemented. The plan was developed with input from residents, but also engaged tourists to help determine visitor appeal and tourism market feasibility of specific historic sites.
A new heritage tourism attraction is the Secret City Commemorative Walk, which was dedicated in 2005. A gift of the Rotary Club to the City, this landscape feature in a center-city park tells the story of Oak Ridge through interpretive plaques atop concrete monuments. The names of Manhattan Project veterans are also inscribed to honor their service.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2006.