Filed under: Historic Places & Landmarks, Other Great RV Routes, Scenic Byways/Historic Routes, The Road Less Traveled
KATY’S KITCHEN – A Piece of the Story about our Country’s WWII era “Secret City”
If you read the July 2011 issue of Highway’s, the official publication of the Good Sam Club, you most likely noted a short article near the back of the magazine about “The Secret City”, now incorporated as Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Current history books used in most of our public schools now tell some of the story about this secret city built almost 60 years ago. There is an increased awareness and interest about the role Oak Ridge played in bringing World War II to an end and how it propelled our nation into the “Atomic Age”..
If you can imagine for a moment our government building a city complete with houses, roads and services that no one outside of a circle of selected officials knew anything about or even where it was – a city to initially house 13,000 families and 30,000 permanent residents – a city costing millions and millions of government dollars – and citizens outside of this selected circle knew absolutely nothing about what the project was for!
In 1942, the U.S. Government acquired about 59,000 acres of farm land in East Tennessee. The land lay mostly in a valley beside the Clinch River just outside of Knoxville and adjacent to Clinton. There, our government undertook the largest single construction project in our history to quickly build the nuclear development facilities known only as K-25, Y-12 and X-10 – along with an entire city to support the facilities. Several names were associated with the building of this secret city. Two of the more widely know were The Clinton Engineering Works and The Manhattan Project.
A part of this massive secret project included a few mysterious installations that literally sprang up in the surrounding pastoral countryside. Outwardly, at least one of these installations was designed to look like it was nothing more than part of one of the remaining farms in the area. No one suspected that this particular facility, code named “Installation Dog”, might have any connection to the security of the United States of America.
But, I am getting ahead of myself with the story, so I will go back to the beginning:
In the fall of 1947, a young architectural draftsman working for the newly organized Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was assigned a project that was to be so secret that he could not tell another living soul what he was doing – not even his wife. In fact, the secrecy was so great that he was required to undergo periodic polygraph testing to confirm that he was indeed keeping his work secret!
His design called for 18” thick reinforced concrete walls to line a tunnel-like structure built into the side of a hill. The entrance was to be disguised to look like a typical wooden barn in the area. The entrance to the inter sanctum was long enough for a full size tractor-trailer truck to be driven inside and hidden from view. The inner sanctum of this project contained another room that was built like a bank vault – it was a room within a room surrounded by two layers of reinforced concrete that totaled over three feet in thickness. The room had heavy steel doors like a huge bank vault with a combination lock and hardened steel rods to keep it secure. Little did anyone know that the truck driven into this tunnel would contain the enriched uranium from the Y-12 plant that was used to build the nuclear arsenal that would protect our country in the post WWII cold war era.
To add to the authenticity of the entrance, a silo was built on the left side of the barn. This silo, constructed of 96” steel reinforced concrete pipes, was disguised with weathered wooden staves using rusted metal bands to hold them in place. Under the roof of the silo was a discrete watchtower kept secure by guards with a mounted machine gun.
The entire area was surrounded by a combat-style barbed wire fence and alarms so sensitive that even intruding animals like deer and foxes often set off the alarms.
Installation Dog was used to store enriched uranium only for a single year – from May 1948 to May of 1949. But, it was kept under secure guard until around 1955 in case it was once again needed.
In 1957, it was converted to a low level counting facility for ORNL’s Analytical Chemistry Division and the majority of the security features were disabled.
So, why would I choose to write about this facility – now historically known as “Katy’s Kitchen”?
Well, I was born in Oak Ridge, or the Secret City, and spent the first 18 years of my life growing up there. My Father, Luther Agee, was the young draftsman that designed and oversaw the architectural aspect of the construction of Katy’s Kitchen.
I am currently in Oak Ridge to visit my Mother. My Dad passed away eleven years ago.
The secret facility my Dad designed that once stored bomb-grade uranium now lies dormant. The silo still stands but the wooden staves and metal rings that made it look discrete are long gone as is the wooden barn built to protect and disguise the entrance. A rusting metal facade now covers the front of the massive, thick walled concrete vault that remains as a monument to the purpose of “The Secret City” – a massive government construction project that would equal building the entire Panama Canal three times in less than three years.
HAPPY CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!
While there are no campgrounds or RV parks within the Oak Ridge City Limits, several parks are close by and only a short drive away from the city. Consult your 2011 Woodall’s Campground Directory for park names and phone numbers.
When visiting Oak Ridge a “must see” is the American Museum of Science and Energy (formerly the Museum of Atomic Energy).