Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Townsite - Oak Ridge

The photograph is a view of Oak Ridge, Tennessee's, main business district during the Manhattan Project taken by the army's official photographer, Ed Wescott. The buildings are all temporary, war-time structures designed to make life as nearly normal as possible for the 75,000 residents who lived and worked inside the fence at the super-secret facility. It had stores, a theater, barber and shoe shops, a grocery store, and a bank. In the background is the then headquarters office building that was known as "the Castle on the Hill."

The Townsite business district remains, now called Jackson Square. I tried to reproduce the photo at the top as nearly as I could, but apartment buildings now stand where Mr. Wescott stood and I had to shoot this photo from slightly lower on the hill. The theater in the corner remains, now housing the Oak Ridge Playhouse, which is currently doing Brighton Beach Memoirs. The department, drug and grocery stores are gone to the new centers of retail along the Oak Ridge Turnpike and S. Illinois Avenue. Much of the space has been converted to offices, although some specialty shops and eateries remain. In the background, the Castle has been replaced by a modern federal office building.

At the far eastern end of Jackson Square sits an Oak Ridge institution, Big Ed's Pizza. The business was started in 1970 by Ed Neusel, who died in 1998. It's now run by family members. Neusel may well have been the most beloved businessman in Oak Ridge history, for his many contributions to youth and families over the years. While the pizza itself has both ardent fans and detractors, Big Ed's has to be on the bucket list for anyone who would claim to have visited Oak Ridge. Passing it up would be a bit like visiting New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty.

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