By Martin and Anne McBride
On Sept. 19, 1942, only two days after being appointed the head of the Manhattan Project in September 1942, Gen. Leslie R. Groves selected Oak Ridge as the first major site of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic bombs during World War II.
Ultimately, $1.1 billion was spent on the huge, first-of-a-kind Oak Ridge nuclear plants and the fledgling “Secret City” of Oak Ridge. This expenditure represented 72 percent of the money spent on the three principal Manhattan Project sites: Oak Ridge; Hanford, Wash.; and Los Alamos, N.M.
The Oak Ridge tract was approximately 17 miles long by an average of seven miles wide. The Corps of Engineers paid $2.6 million dollars for the land and initially named the site the “Kingston Demolition Range.” Local opposition to having a demolition range in the area caused the name to be changed to “Clinton Engineer Works.”
The first official headquarters for the Clinton Engineer Works was a temporary office established in the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, which opened at 8 a.m. on October 26, 1942. (Reference: “55 Years that Changed History (A Manhattan Project Timeline, 1894 to 1943),” McBride, 2010.)
On Sept. 19, in honor of Oak Ridge’s 71st birthday, the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association will present two preservation awards. The award presentations are open to the public, and all are welcome.
The Oak Ridge School Administration Building, formerly the Pine Valley School, will receive one of the preservation awards. This building has been well-maintained, and it is the last original school building to still be used as a school (now a preschool). The award will be presented to Bruce Borchers, school superintendent, at 3 p.m. Thursday at the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave.
Also selected is CapitalMark Bank and Trust, located in Historic Jackson Square, next to the Oak Ridge Playhouse. Several original features have been preserved, including bank vaults (still in working order) that once were a part of Hamilton National Bank, the first bank to open in Oak Ridge. The preservation award will be presented to bank president David Bradshaw at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
The ORHPA sign was built and paid for by members of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association.
Martin and Anne McBride are members of the ORHPA Sign Committee.