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Alexander Inn

Thoughts on history and preservation

Kiosk at Oak Ridge Welcome Center, which promotes Manhattan Project heritage tourism

Today’s Oak Ridger has the first installment of  the responses that City Council candidates provided when D. Ray Smith asked for our thoughts on city history and historic preservation. My complete responses are here. His request was:

What I would like to have to include in a future “Historically Speaking” column are your thoughts on the following:

 1. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park

2. Preservation of the Alexander Inn

3. K-25 Memorandum of Understanding (the history center there in the Fire Hall, the replica building, the viewing tower and the footprint being preserved)

4. The importance of Heritage Tourism as one of the economic development strategies for Oak Ridge

5. Any other thoughts you might have on historic preservation

What I told Ray in response:

Oak Ridge is a place where ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things that contributed to changing the history of the world. I was reminded of the tremendous significance of the Manhattan Project a few days ago when the BBC website had a feature story about “Five of history’s most important places,” listing Los Alamos alongside places like Athens, Greece.

The story of what happened in Oak Ridge needs to be made available and accessible to future generations. I am excited about the prospect of establishing a Manhattan Project National Historic Park because I believe that the National Park Service has the expertise to help us do a more effective job of telling our story and because National Park affiliation will bring more visitors into our city. Oak Ridge won’t become a tourist mecca on a par with Gatlinburg, but we can expect solid economic benefits from bringing more customers to our hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, and specialty shops.

It’s a shame that none of Oak Ridge’s three Manhattan Project “signature facilities” can be seen by visitors on a regular basis. The Beta 3 calutron building at Y-12 is in a high security area, the Graphite Reactor can be visited only on public bus tours in the summer, and the K-25 building is being demolished. I am still disappointed that DOE did not see clear to preserving a part of the K-25 building. I recall that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation consultants who visited some years ago said that the massive scale of that building was something that visitors in future centuries would be impressed by. Since we couldn’t keep a piece of K-25, the projects spelled out in the K-25 Memorandum of Understanding are a reasonable substitute.

I am very pleased by the news that the Alexander Inn Guest House likely will be preserved and restored. It was an important part of Manhattan Project Oak Ridge; it’s a treasured landmark in the lives of most long-time Oak Ridgers; and a restored Alexander Inn will help tie the Jackson Square area together as a historic commercial district and visitor attraction. Some residents have told me that the Alexander doesn’t have sufficient historic significance to be worth preserving. I agree that it doesn’t meet the same standard of exceptional historic significance as the three “signature facilities,” but very few historic properties anywhere can meet that high of a standard. (The Graphite Reactor is one of fewer than 2,500 national historic landmarks in the country, and the other two facilities are also deemed worthy of that exalted designation.) All in all, I think the Alexander is a significant physical piece of Oak Ridge history that is worth trying to hang onto.

Note: That response was written almost two weeks ago, before City Council voted (unanimously!) to approve a tax abatement that will help make the Alexander Inn restoration a reality.


Much good news in my e-mail inbox

Two bits of good news in a row:  (1) The Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort now owns the Alexander Inn and (2) an additional trail segment has opened on the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement in westernmost Oak Ridge. Hurray for the people whose volunteer efforts are making good things happen!

On the Alexander Inn, Kate Groover says:

It’s official. The Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort now owns the Alexander Inn/Guest House.

Plans are underway to begin cleaning up the grounds as quickly as possible. The Rogers Group is generously providing 250 tons of gravel to fill the stagnant swimming pool immediately and Robert McNabb is providing the trucks and labor.

We encourage all those interested in this property to join us in City Court on Monday, December 21 at 8:00 AM to show your support during the hearing scheduled to address current code violations.

On the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement, Tom Dunigan says:

For your holiday enjoyment, an additional 0.8 miles of trail have been opened in the NE corner of the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement. See updated trail map and Google maps at this page on Tom’s website.  The new trail includes the boundary gravel road section (0.3 miles) that descends toward Blair Road, connected back to the entrance gravel by 0.5 miles of single-track (Twisted Beech Trail). Trail work and design were guided by TWRA’s Jim Evans and Larry Creech with help from numerous volunteers.

Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement includes 3,073 acres on Black Oak Ridge and McKinney Ridge in the western part of Oak Ridge. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and DOE manage the site. It contains interesting community types and species such as hemlock-rhododendron forest, beech maple forest, cedar barrens, fringe tree, spider lily, spreading false-foxglove, white-topped sedge, Vaseys trillium, Tennessee dace and southeastern shrew. Some of these species are unusual for the Ridge and Valley region. The area currently has more than eleven miles of trails, mostly on gravel roads, which are considered moderately difficult. The trails are open daily from daylight to dusk, and are limited to hikers and bicyclists. No motorized vehicles or animals are permitted, with the exception of motorized wheelchairs and service animals.