International Friendship Bell

During World War II Oak Ridge, TN was known as the Secret City.  It was and still is the host city for a government lab that is dedicated to researching all things atomic.  During the war, this research was designed to create the nuclear bombs that helped to end the war.  The bombs that they helped create were dropped on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In the early 90s, in celebration to the 50th anniversary of the founding of Oak Ridge and its part in the Manhattan Project.

Why the International Friendship Bell:

  • The bell was designed to fit into the theme of the City’s Celebration – Born of war, living for peace, growing through science.
  • The bell incorporates dates that reflect the workers in Oak Ridge with the Manhattan Project.  The role they played in helping to end WWII and the Cold War.
  • The bell, due to its traditional Japanese design is designed in a hope to focus on the peace between nations and promote understanding between the nation of Japan and the United States.

After a community wide exploration of what to do to celebrate the 50 year anniversary, it was decided to tie in the destruction to the two cities in Japan to the monument and the International Friendship Bell was commissioned.  The bell itself is a traditional Japanese bell.  It measures almost 5 feet wide at the base and is over 6 feet tall.  This impressive item is housed in a Japanese style enclosure and is made of bronze.  The outside of the bell is decorated with Japanese characters and is a work of art.  The two main panels on the bell were designed by Oak Ridge citizen Suzanna Harris.  The panels are covered in the natural characteristics of both Tennessee and Oak Ridge.  The official flowers, birds, and trees of each of these locations are etched into the bronze itself.  The basic goal is to extend that hand of peace to the people over the years that will see the bell and remind them of the past and to look to the future.

Next time you are in Oak Ridge, look for Bissell Park.  The bell itself is hard to miss.  It is a very large structure and a focal point in the park.  Stroll around the park and spend sometime with the International Friendship Bell.  Run your hands over the bronze figures and reliefs.  Grab the ringer and give it a go and listen to the tone that the bell makes.  Take your children and let them learn some history.  Let them learn about Oak Ridge and its connection to World War II and the world.

Secret City Festival

scf1Each year, Oak Ridge, TN puts on a festival to celebrate the people, culture and history of the city that was a secret until after the second World War. This festival, which used to be known as Mayfest, brings community organizations, crafters, entertainment and all of the people of Oak Ridge together in a mass celebration that takes place downtown.  This is one of the highlights of the Oak Ridge events calendar each year and it brings thousands of people to AK Bissell Park each year.

In 1982, Oak Ridge started a festival in the late spring called the Azalea Festival.  This festival wa sa one day craft show that evolved over time into a two day event called Mayfest.  In 2003, Mayfest got a name change and a face lift.  Mayfest became The Secret City Festival.  The celebration moved to the first Friday and Saturday in June and become a much bigger celebration of Oak Ridge’s people and history.

scf3In 2012, the Secret City Festival presented the following events:

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: When the Cold War Got Hot – Exhibit
  • General Leslie R Groves and the Manhattan Project – Exhibit
  • Tour f the ORNL Graphite Reactor
  • Tour of K-25 Site
  • Art & Craft Show
  • Juried Art Show
  • Craft Demonstrations
  • WWII Living History
  • Oak Ridge 70 Years of History
  • Children’s Games
  • Toddler’s Games
  • Youth Games
  • Historic Rugby Play
  • DOE Facilities Public Bus Tour
  • Secret City Scenic Excursion Train
  • Tennis Tournament
  • Concerts

scf2Each year, one of the highlights of the festival is the WWII Reenactment.  With your family gathered around, you get to watch reencators, in fall military gear display the tactics and part of what an actual battle might have looked like during World War II.  From infantry troops to armored personnel carries and light tanks, the display the put on brings this time in history to life.  For the history or military buff in your life, this is a once in a life time event.

If you happen to be on the Tennessee side of the Smokies the first weekend of June, plan to visit Oak Ridge.  Stop by and enjoy the craft show, the concerts, the people and of course an amazing WWII reenactment.  Let the kids enjoy the sunshine, browse the booths, find a nice shady tree and watch the crowds roll by and of course, find a place to sit and watch the battle begin.  Learn more about the people and the places around Oak Ridge at the Secret City Festival.

Secret City Festival
P O Box 1
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

American Museum of Science and Energy

amse2It is no wonder, with the history of Oak Ridge, that the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE) calls this remarkable town home.   The purpose of the museum is to teach the young and the young at heart about energy with an emphasis on t nuclear power.  It also tells the story of Oak Ridge and its role in the Manhattan Project.  Located near the heart of Oak Ridge the museum is easy to find and always a great way to spend part of your day while you are in the Smoky Mountains.  If you have a young person in your life that is interested in science then there is no other place to go then to the AMSE.

It is in the permanent exhibits at the AMSE that you find the true heart of this museum.  From their very own website, here is the information that they give on their permanent exhibits:

  • amse3The Story of Oak Ridge: This panorama of historical photographs, documents and artifacts explains the Manhattan Project and the construction of Oak Ridge, TN. A 20-minute video presentation extends the explanations.
  • Exploration Station: This popular area offers self-directed activities which explore light and color, sound, problem-solving, static electricity, robotics, vision and more.
  • Y-12 and National Defense: Models of weapons, protective clothing and tools along with video and hands-on activities demonstrate processes, safety features and careers at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge.
  • Earth’s Energy Resources: Maps, tools, models and audiovisual materials are used in the exhibits to explore the variety of energy sources, such as coal, oil, geothermal, hydropower and natural gas, found on Earth.
  • World of the Atom: A cross section model of a nuclear reactor and a simulated underground nuclear waste storage area highlight this area that also covers pioneering atomic scientists, natural radiation, fusion, and nuclear energy in space.

As you can see they are education heavy.  They are geared to teaching the concepts of nuclear energy, the value of science and the scientist that created the technologies that we take fore granted and about inspiring the next generation of scientists that might one day come to Oak Ridge to develop the next big concept in energy.

Along with the permanent exhibits, this museum brings in traveling exhibits throughout the year, they host special events and of course they get involved with the schools and locals activities in and around Oak Ridge.  The AMSE in Oak Ridge is not only the perfect testament to the history of the area but it is a great place to take your family.  It is one of the best hand-on-museums in the south east and is a gem in the crown of East Tennessee due to the creativity of its exhibits and joy they take in their subject matter.  Mark a day off your calendar and make sure that visit the American Museum of Science and Energy the next time you are in East Tennessee.

American Museum of Science and Energy
300 S Tulane
Oak Ridge, TN

Oak Ridge, TN

The Secret City

Oak Ridge is not only known as the Secret City but it is a secret that needs to be passed on to tourist visiting the Smoky Mountains.  From great museum based around its atomic history to cultural events, this town, right outside of Knoxville is a great day trip while you are in the Smokies.

Oak Ridge, TN

Though people (both natives and settlers) had been living in this area since the Woodland Period, it was in 1942 that Oak Ridge came to national notice – or lack of notice.  The Army Corps of Engineers began buying land in the Oak Ridge area and using “declarations of taking” to ‘persuade’ those people that didn’t want to sell their land.  Soon they had enough land to establish the National Laboratory in the southeast that was part of the Manhattan Project – the project that developed the atomic bomb.  The Secret City, as it has become to be known, was an entire city that was not on the map, thousands of people (around 75,000) were working and living in a town that was not on the map for national security reasons.

After the war, the National lab became more public and the city of Oak Ridge began to grow outside the boundaries of the lab facilities.  The lab shifted to be under civilian control and since that time, Oak Ridge has brought in other manufacturing companies and is a center for science and industry in the Smokies.  In fact, it is home to the Jaguar super computer.



Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge – Designed as an education and cultural experience, the children’s museum teaches through the eyes of a child and allows you to step back into your childhood learning about the history of the area, architecture, the wonders of a rain forest and much, much more.

Secret City Festival – Each year, Oak Ridge celebrates with future generations by teaching about its past.  The festival has music, crafts, arts and one of the few World War II demonstrations that you will ever find.  With tanks and a reenactment of a WWII battle, this is sure to stick in your memories for years.

American Museum of Science and Energy – A hands on museum of the first order!  With lots of educational opportunities and plenty of displays about the Y-12 plant and their advancements of nuclear science, this is a great afternoon adventure for the whole family.  Included in your trip is a replica of one of the laboratories used during the height of Oak Ridge’s days in the Manhattan Project and lots of science experiements.

New Hope Visitors Center at Y-12 – This visitor’s center is designed to allow people visiting Oak Ridge to learn more about the Y-12 plant – one of the original Manhattan Project facilities.  This facility was one of the plants that helped to enrich uranium for the development of the atomic bombs used during World War II.  The New Hope Visitors Center has videos on the past, present and future of Y-12 along with displays that show you how the ‘secret’ of the Secret City was kept.