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The Atomic City

  • photo
    Guests dine at Big Ed's Pizza
    Photo by Theresa Montgomery

Oak Ridge's inhabits won't let go of the past. But with a past this cool, who'd want to let go?

Juxtaposed against Oak Ridge's outdoor beauty is the city's fascinating World War II-era heritage that draws visitors from all over the world who want to touch a piece of U.S. nuclear history.

Originally cloaked in atomic secrets, Oak Ridge has emerged as a beautiful destination that has preserved its history while moving into the future as a training ground for world-class athletes.

-- Compiled by staff writer Adam Poulisse

Cat's out of the bag: Secret Military Facilities

Three military facilities, once shrouded in secret with the Manhattan Project, are open to the general public:

• X-10, a former graphite reactor plant at 1 Bethel Valley Road, now is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A list of visitors is finalized each day by 4:30 p.m. After being issued a picture ID, you can get a first-hand look at a historic military facility.

• Y-12 National Security Complex is one of four production facilities in the National Nuclear Security Administration's Nuclear Security Enterprise. Visitor Services office hours are 4 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your desired tour time.

• K-25, a gaseous diffusion plant, is being torn down and remodeled into the Heritage Center, part of a new industrial park.

A Slice of Heaven

Big Ed's Pizza, a nationally-recognized local pizza joint, was the winner of the Knoxville Sentinel's readers' choice for best pizza place.

• Big Ed's Pizza serves up a piping-hot pizza, and frosty beers are available to help wash it down.

• Located on the historic Jackson Square, 101 Broadway Ave.; Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Source: The Knoxville Sentinel

Nostalgic for the '40s?

There's a Tent for That -- For more than a decade, the award-winning Secret City Festival has touted itself as a place to experience eras "from the '40s to the future," showcasing the city's history to modern-day.

• Held every June just off the Oak Ridge Turnpike, it features the South's largest WWII re-enactment.

• The Secret City Festival draws grand musical entertainment, including Mic Harrison and the High Score, and a Jimmy Buffett tribute band.

Source: Secret City Festival

Best-selling item in town: lab coats

• Population: 29,000

• Biggest employer: The Oak Ridge National Laboratory employs about 4,400 people

• Landmarks or geographic feature: The bell of the ball, so to speak, is on Badger Avenue in Oak Ridge. Standing proudly is the International Friendship Bell, a symbol of hope for everlasting peace, and the first monument between a U.S. Manhattan • Project city and Japan. While the everlasting peace thing may have not held up, the International Friendship Bell certainly has.

• Date founded: 1959

• History: The city of Oak Ridge was built in 1942 on 60,000 acres of rural farm land. The city was designed from scratch as a major site in the Manhattan Project. Later, Oak Ridge transformed from a temporary military town into the independent, self-governing city we know today.

• Most famous resident: Grammy-winning bassist Edgar Meyer

• Unique tradition: The Order of the Muddy Boot was started in 1973 to honor the Manhattan Project founders of the town. It's given to those who leverage the federal presence to create private sector jobs.

• Unique characteristic: Oak Ridge was originally called Clinton Engineer Works, named after the nearby town of Clinton.

Sources: Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce,

the City of Oak Ridge, and Oak Ridge visitors center website

All aboard!

• The Southern Appalachia Railway Museum’s Secret City Scenic Excursion Train is as fun as it is tongue-twisting.

• The train takes eager riders on a relaxing 14-mile round-trip from the Heritage Center, a former military facility, through the hills and valleys of Tennessee. For nostalgia-seekers, the trains are pulled by a vintage 1950s diesel locomotive.

• The northern portion of the ride can be seen in the film “October Sky.”

• Trains run on select weekends from April to December, and officials encourage visitors to buy tickets in advance.

Source: Secret City Scenic Excursion Train

Can you keep a Secret (City)?

• For a place called the Secret City, it’s hard to find a single, definitive best-kept secret. In fact, the town’s very existence was once a secret.

• After being shrouded in secrecy, the city was finally opened to the public in 1949 after the Manhattan Project was relocated.

Source: Oak Ridge Visitor website