After the attack on Pearl Harbor, it became clear that the United States had to enter World War II. As such, the "Manhattan Project" was initiated, which consisted of three cities that would produce the world's first atomic weapons. Unlike its counterparts -- Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington -- Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was built specifically for this project. Carved out of 59,000 acres of rural farmland in 1942, this city rapidly grew to a population of 75,000 people in less than three years -- all without anyone knowing of its existence.
In Oak Ridge, three main buildings -- K-25, X-10 and Y-12 -- housed the majority of the work that produced plutonium 239 and uranium 235 for the atomic bombs. Today, visitors can see some of these facilities as part of the free bus tour offered by the American Museum of Science and Energy. In fact, at AMSE, visitors can get an in-depth look at Oak Ridge's history at the museum's exhibit "Oak Ridge: World War II's 'Secret City.'" It's amazing to see not only what was accomplished in this new town, but also the great lengths everyone involved took to ensure its secrecy.
Of special note: Take the kids to nearby Clinton, the site of the first integrated high school in the country. At the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, they can see how these turbulent events unfolded in a small Southern town, and learn how the community refused to give in to outsiders who insisted on creating havoc wherever they could.
Also a short drive away, families can stop at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris. This living history museum features pioneer, frontier and early artifacts of mountain life in the southern Appalachians. While the museum is stocked with a number of items, the focus actually is on the people who carved a way of life for themselves out of some very harsh conditions.
Recommended Hotel: Wyndham Smoky Mountains