Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Flat-top houses

The American Museum of Science and Energy  in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has a display of a so-called "flat-top" house. The population of Oak Ridge grew rapidly during the Manhattan Project, outstripping all of the planning that was done and producing a persistent housing shortage. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which was working closely with the Army on the project, offered plans for small houses they had used during the construction of Fontana Dam in North Carolina. These small flat-top houses could be built quickly in an off-site factory and trucked in sections to the home site, often with furniture already inside.

There are stories of a family arriving at the super-secret project, being assigned housing by Roane-Anderson Company, the property-management contractor, and finding a vacant lot with a few pipes sticking out of the ground when they went to the address. The elaborated story has the wife sitting on the curb in tears when a crane and a couple of trucks show up, quickly unload and set up a house, and drive away. That might not be too far from the truth!

The flat-top roofs were no match for east Tennessee rains and the Army quickly refitted the houses with gabled roofs. Unlike the alphabet houses, most flat-tops (they're still called that) are rental units today. Many rental units are in poor repair, but those in private ownership often have been remodeled and enlarged to the point they are no longer recognizable as flat-tops.

Just in case any of the new occupants were less than thrilled with their housing assignment, the museum display has a reproduction of a war-time motivational billboard.


  1. They look very similar to the "pre-fabs" (pre-fabricated homes) that were used to solve the immediate post-war housing crisis in England. They were supposed to be a temporary measure but,as you'll have guessed, there were some still lived in some 50 years later. There are probably some surviving today.

  2. So happy I found this blog. I am a southern WV girl myself! I happened upon your blog while doing research on Happy Valley. I had seen a few photos of the flat tops but you have the best ones. Thanks so much for sharing them!

  3. Welcome, Crystal. Glad to have you along. Hope you enjoy! Jim

  4. Thanks for the photos. I lived in a flat-top house in oak ridge, on wadsworth circle near highland view elementary school, from 1952-1955. i am currently working on a book about my grandparents, and your blog helped me fill in some more missing information.

    1. You're welcome; glad it helped. Good luck with your book.