When a 1939 letter from Albert Einstein informed President Franklin Roosevelt about German nuclear experiments, the federal government secretly created The Manhattan Project to fashion atomic bombs. This extensive experiment led to the creation of secret cities like Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the federal government acquired 56,000 acres from rural residents. Approximately 1,000 families were displaced from the no longer extant communities of Wheat, Elza, Scarboro, New Hope, and Robertsville. The historiography of Oak Ridge, and atomic cities in general, focuses on what happened during and after their creation; but the stories of those who were displaced have been mostly forgotten.
In the region surrounding Oak Ridge, many families were also forced off their land prior to the 1940s due to the establishment of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the construction of TVA’s Norris Dam, making it a unique case study. Sadly, eminent domain laws have caused this to become a persistent issue in American history, which still affects citizens and land owners today.
This digital history project seeks to acknowledge the families who forfeited their homes for the war effort in the pre-Oak Ridge community of Wheat, Tennessee, by mapping its residents’ properties prior to 1942 and providing information about those who were displaced. Like any good research project, creating these interactive maps has given rise to new questions:
What do the history of displacement and eminent domain laws in our country say about us? About our government? Our culture? About what we value?
What happened to the residents of Wheat and other displaced communities in Roane and Anderson Counties?
Many displaced residents of Wheat, Tennessee were part of Greatest Generation, why do our textbooks ignore them?