At first glance, Oak Ridge seems like just another pleasant small town. Located west of Knoxville, Oak Ridge has some big town features like a symphony orchestra, a rowing association and the state's oldest continuously operating community theatre. But during World War II, Oak Ridge was a "secret city" and home of the A-bomb.
The town of Oak Ridge sprang from the need for a remote location to house the Manhattan Project, the creation of the A-bomb. After relocating families living in the area, the town was built from scratch to house government workers and the all-important project. After years of producing plutonium from uranium, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) now works on the human genetic code and on ways to deal with toxic waste.
The high education level of workers at ORNL played a major role in encouraging the artistic endeavors so unusual for a small town: the oldest performing symphony orchestra in the state, the Oak Ridge Playhouse and Oak Ridge Art Center.
Explore nuclear history on the 1940s Secret City Scenic Excursion Train which departs from the Southern Appalachian Railway Museum. From April to September, tours are also available at three facilities of ORNL including the Graphite Reactor Museum.
See science on display at the American Museum of Science & Energy with displays of eight nuclear weapon models plus demonstrations of scientific principles. For example, see your hair stand on end as you test static electricity. Take the kids to see hands-on exhibits at the Children's Museum center on themes such as pioneer living and coal in Appalachia.
Enjoy biking, walking, or skating along a three-mile waterfront trail at Melton Lake Drive Greenway and Park in town. Melton Hill Lake has a marina and is considered one of the top five rowing venues in the U.S. Or, take a walk in the woods at the University of Tennessee Arboretum; numerous short trails lead through different habitats.
Dining options range from casual at Big Ed's Pizza to gourmet at the Bleu Hound, where dishes such as grilled quail and roast duckling are popular.
Oak Ridge is located about 25 miles northwest of Knoxville, off I-40 on Hwy. 162.