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Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge’s population was 29,330 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Knoxville Metropolitan Area. Oak Ridge’s nicknames include the Atomic City, the Secret City, the Ridge, and the City Behind the Fence.
Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project—the massive American, British, and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb. Scientific development still plays a crucial role in the city’s economy and culture in general.
The earliest substantial occupation of the Oak Ridge area occurred during the Woodland period (c. 1000 BC–1000), although artifacts dating to the Paleo-Indian period have been found throughout the Clinch Valley. Two Woodland mound sites—the Crawford Farm Mounds and the Freels Farm Mounds—were uncovered in the 1930s as part of the Norris Basin salvage excavations. Both sites were located just southeast of the former Scarboro community. The Bull Bluff site, which was occupied during both the Woodland and Mississippian (c. 1000–1600) periods, was uncovered in the 1960s in anticipation of the construction of Melton Hill Dam. Bull Bluff is a cliff located immediately southeast of Haw Ridge, opposite Melton Hill Park. The Oak Ridge area was largely uninhabited by the time Euro-American explorers and settlers arrived in the late 18th century, although the Cherokee claimed the land as part of their hunting grounds.
Immediately northeast of Oak Ridge, the southwestward-flowing Clinch River bends sharply to the southeast for roughly 6 miles (9.7 km) toward Solway, where it turns again to the southwest. After flowing for approximately 17 miles (27 km), the river bends sharply to the northwest at Copper Ridge, and continues in this direction for nearly 7 miles (11 km). At the K-25 plant, the Clinch turns southwest again and flows for another 11 miles (18 km) to its mouth along the Tennessee River at Kingston. This series of bends creates a half-rectangle formation—surrounded by water on the northeast, east, and southwest—in which Oak Ridge is situated.
The Oak Ridge area is striated by five elongated ridges that run roughly parallel to one another in a northeast-to-southwest direction. In order from west-to-east, the five ridges are Blackoak Ridge—which connects the Elza and K-25 bends of the Clinch and thus “walls off” the half-rectangle—East Fork Ridge, Pine Ridge, Chestnut Ridge, and Haw Ridge. The five ridges are divided by four valleys—East Fork Valley (between Blackoak and East Fork Ridge), Gamble Valley (between East Fork Ridge and Pine Ridge), Bear Creek Valley (between Pine Ridge and Chestnut), and Bethel Valley (between Chestnut and Haw). These ridges and valleys are part of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians physiographic province. The main section of the city is located in the northeast, where East Fork and Pine Ridge give way to low, scattered hills. Many of the city’s residences are located along the relatively steep northeastern slope of Blackoak Ridge.
The completion of Melton Hill Dam (along the Clinch near Copper Ridge) in 1963 created Melton Hill Lake, which borders the city on the northeast and east. The lakefront on the east side of the city is a popular recreation area, with bicycling trails and picnic areas lining the shore. The lake is also well known as a venue for rowing competitions. Watts Bar Lake, an impoundment of the Tennessee River which covers the lower 23 miles (37 km) of the Clinch, borders Oak Ridge to the south and southwest.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 90.0 square miles (233.0 km2), of which 85.3 square miles (220.8 km2) is land and 4.7 square miles (12.2 km2), or 5.25%, is water.
The highest point is Melton Hill (35.90962°N 84.30525°W) on the DOE reservation, at elevation 1,356 feet (413 m).
As of the census of 2000, there were 27,387 people, 12,062 households, and 7,695 families residing in the city. The population density was 320.1 people per square mile (123.6/km²). There were 13,417 housing units at an average density of 156.8 per square mile (60.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 86.96% White, 8.18% African American, 0.30% Native American, 2.10% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.76% from other races, and 1.68% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.93% of the population.
There were 12,062 households out of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.7% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were non-families. 32.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.83.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.4% under the age of 18, 6.6% from 18 to 24, 23.6% from 25 to 44, 26.3% from 45 to 64, and 21.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 88.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $41,950, and the median income for a family was $57,087. Males had a median income of $45,149 versus $27,500 for females. The per capita income for the city was $24,793. About 8.0% of families and 10.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.5% of those under age 18 and 5.5% of those age 65 or over.
The federal government projects at Oak Ridge are reduced in size and scope, but are still the city’s principal economic activity and one of the biggest employers in the Knoxville metropolitan area. The Department of Energy owns the federal sites and maintains a major office in the city. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest multipurpose lab in the Department of Energy’s National Laboratory system, and is also home to the Spallation Neutron Source, a 1.4 billion dollar project completed in 2006, and “Jaguar”, one of the world’s most powerful scientific supercomputers that has peak performance of more than one quadrillion operations per second. The Y-12 National Security Complex is a component of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The Department of Energy’s Environmental Management office is conducting an extensive program of decontamination and decommissioning, environmental cleanup, and waste management that aims to remove or stabilize the hazardous residues remaining from decades of government production and research activities. The Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information, which disseminates government research and development information and operates the Science.gov website, is located in the city. The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, operated by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, conducts research and education programs for the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. The Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), one of several field divisions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Air Resources Laboratory, is also located in the city. ATDD began under AEC sponsorship in 1948 as a Weather Bureau research office providing meteorological information and expertise for the AEC. Currently its main function is to perform air quality-related research directed toward issues of national and global importance.
The city operates a preschool, four elementary schools enrolling kindergarten through grade 4, two middle schools enrolling grades 5 through 8, and one high school enrolling grades 9 through 12.
In an August 2004 referendum, city voters approved an increase in local sales taxes to fund a $55 million project for Oak Ridge High School. Following demolition of one wing of the main building, construction on the first wall of the new building began in April 2005. Temporary classrooms were set up to house science classes; they will continue to be used for different purposes as the multi-year project progresses.