The historic flat top house that has been at the American Museum of Science and Energy for about a decade will be moved to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge on October 2, project officials said Monday.
The Children’s Museum kicked off a Go Fund Me campaign for the project on Monday, inviting the community to help raise $25,000 to support the move and preserve and maintain the flat top.
The Children’s Museum said it offered to give the flat top a new home when AMSE announced that it is moving to Main Street Oak Ridge. The former AMSE location on South Tulane Avenue, which had been used for about four decades, closed in late July. The new AMSE location at Main Street Oak Ridge, the redevelopment of the former Oak Ridge Mall, is expected to open in October. There isn’t enough space to keep the flat top as an exhibit at the new AMSE, a press release said.
But the Children’s Museum does have room for the flat top on its property, the press release said. The flat top will be southeast of the museum building, which is at 461 West Outer Drive in north Oak Ridge.
“Here at the Children’s Museum, the flat top will invite visitors to touch history and to learn more about life during the Manhattan Project, when thousands of workers flocked to Oak Ridge to work on a secret project for the war effort in the early 1940s,” said Beth Shea, Children’s Museum executive director. Shea spoke during a press conference at the Children’s Museum on Monday.
The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II. Oak Ridge was built as part of the project, and there are efforts to preserve parts of the city’s history.
One of thousands of prefabricated houses built to house workers and their families, this flat top is a small two-bedroom home with a combination living-dining room and one bath, just 576 square feet. Its flat roof gives the house its name.
Unlike many flat tops that have been modified or moved, this flat top retained its original fixtures and design through a move outside Oak Ridge for use as a summer home. AMSE staff realized this flat top was historically valuable because its flooring, cabinetry, light fixtures, and plumbing are all original, said Lee McGetrick, Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge board member.
The AMSE Foundation presented the deed to the flat top as a gift to the Children’s Museum. The Foundation also contributed $5,982 to help move the small, prefabricated flat top to ensure that it would continue to be a historical exhibit, the press release said.
“We are grateful to the AMSE Foundation for this gift,” Shea said.
The flat top’s original home at 68 Outer Drive was east of the Children’s Museum’s location on West Outer Drive. That means the home, once it is at the Children’s Museum, will not be far from its original location in Oak Ridge.
“We are bringing the flat top home to a Manhattan Project neighborhood,” said McGetrick, who is serving as project manager for the move. Moving the flat top will require help in managing traffic and ensuring safety as the house is transported across town to the Children’s Museum, the press release said.
“We at the Children’s Museum feel a responsibility to commit to preserve historic Manhattan Project structures such as this house and to educate the public about them and the unique history of the Secret City,” McGetrick said.
Marian Phillips, vice president of the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge board, announced Monday that the Children’s Museum has received a $10,000 contribution from the family of Kenneth and Isabelle Smith to this second move to preserve this piece of Oak Ridge history. Ken and Isabelle Smith donated the flat top to AMSE in 2008.
Isabelle Fitzpatrick Smith’s father, Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, bought the flat top at auction in 1948, and he moved the house to Tazewell, Tennessee, for use as a summer home. For 60 years, the family enjoyed the home on their property on Norris Lake in Claiborne County, said Rachel Smith-Jones, daughter of Ken and Isabelle Smith and granddaughter of Thad Fitzpatrick.
After he bought the house in 1948, Thad Fitzpatrick added a screened-in porch, front porch, and pitched metal roof to the home when it was relocated to the family’s Norris Lake property, Smith-Jones said.
Smith-Jones said her mother Isabelle Smith passed away in 2016, and she and her father, Ken Smith, were unable to attend the press conference on Monday because of prior commitments. But she sent comments by email.
“Our family is so pleased that the AMSE Foundation and the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge worked together to develop a plan to relocate the flattop,” Smith-Jones said. “The preservation of this piece of history was very important to my mother, and she would have been thrilled, a decade after her donation, to know that visitors will continue to be able to take a walk back in time and experience what life was like in 1940s Oak Ridge.”
Phillips, the Children’s Museum board vice president, said the flat top will need some immediate preservation and maintenance work once it’s moved.
“We will also create an interpretive program that will educate visitors about this style of housing as part of the unique history of Oak Ridge,” Phillips said.
In the yard beside the flat top at the museum, the National Park Service will plant a victory garden, similar to gardens that families cultivated during World War II. Visitors will learn about life during the war and the importance of these gardens to the war effort.
As a permanent exhibit at the Children’s Museum, the flat top will add yet another element to the museum’s exhibits of Oak Ridge history, including “Difficult Decisions” and the Ed Westcott Room, the press release said. The house could be open to the public early next year.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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