Oak Ridgers - We're All Squatters Here

In 1942, 56,000 acres in Anderson and Roane Counties in East Tennessee were condemned by the federal government to make way for the Manhattan Project.  Anderson County lost a full one seventh of its land.

 

 Federal agents prowled the hills, valleys and ridges, tacking condemnation notices on fence posts and front doors.  About a thousand families were affected.  Residents were given two weeks to vacate.  Despite protests and even a Congressional inquiry, property owners were paid at what was, even in 1942, the paltry price of $47.00 an acre.

 

Between 1942 and 1945, the population of Site X, later known as Oak Ridge, swelled to about 90,000 residents.  But, by the 1950s, the population had decreased to around 30,000 and has remained relatively stable ever since.  As the population fell and the town became somewhat normalized (though the Secret City will never be truly normal) the Atomic Energy Commission began selling off surplus land and property.

 

Government owned houses built during the War were offered for sale, first to their occupants and then to the general public.  Unused government owned acreage along the Turnpike, Emory Valley and Illinois Ave. was sold to developers and new houses and apartment buildings, along with shopping centers and restaurants, began mushrooming, all of it built on surplus government land.  

 

The fact is, no one in Oak Ridge owns or lives on land that wasn't seized from someone else. The house I grew up in on Ditman Lane was built on surplus land my father bought in 1959.  The house where my husband and I currently live sits on surplus land my father in law bought in 1963.   

 

Over the years, a lot of the land condemned and seized in 1942 has been sold to individuals, private companies and developers.  As you might guess, the new owners are typically not related to any of the original settlers that were here before World War II.

 

I'm of the opinion that if there had been justice or even courtesy extended to the old families, the surplus land would have been offered back to the original owners or their descendants before being advertised to the general public.  I've always thought the unused land should have been offered to the original families at the same $47.00 an acre price paid to them in 1942, perhaps adjusted upward for inflation, or maybe even adjusted downward in recognition of the patriotic sacrifices made.

 

 A few people have gotten very rich off land purchased from the government in Oak Ridge.  I don't think that's the way it should have been, however.  The lives of the old settlers were disrupted, extended families broken up and generations dislocated, with little more than a fare ye well.  It seems to me that restoring land ownership when possible would have been the right thing to do.  

 

All of us who came to Oak Ridge after 1942 are, in effect, squatters, albeit legal ones, sitting on land to which we have little moral right.  Why do I bring this up now?  I'm not sure really except to say that as I was listening to a citizen defend his considerable investment in Oak Ridge at a City Council meeting the other night, I found myself thinking, "But all wealth in Oak Ridge, yours, mine, and everybody else's, is based on the seizure of somebody else's rightful property."    

My opinion, take what you like, leave the rest.  

 

Martha Maria 

3 comments

  • Susie Williams Taylor
    Susie Williams Taylor
    Fabulous article Martha! Spot on in all ways

    Fabulous article Martha! Spot on in all ways

  • janet
    janet
    Aren't we all squatting on the land taken from the indegenous population? The cherokee are squatting on land taken from the yuchi. How far back do we go?

    Aren't we all squatting on the land taken from the indegenous population? The cherokee are squatting on land taken from the yuchi. How far back do we go?

  • Ron Bowman
    Ron Bowman
    Sad but true. I would imagine that many, if not most of those original owners probably would have been able to buy it back. I agree they should have had first right of refusal.

    Sad but true. I would imagine that many, if not most of those original owners probably would have been able to buy it back. I agree they should have had first right of refusal.

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