Back of Oak Ridge

Written by:  Grace Raby Crawford

Edited by: David Ray Smith

NOTE: I have recently published a book in hardback The John Hendrix Story that contains the full Back of Oak Ridge text as well as the six newspaper articles I have published on the history of John Hendrix. This book can be purchased at: The John Hendrix Story

To obtain a copy of this 42 page book rich in history of the times Back of Oak Ridge or the larger hardback book The John Hendrix Story send an e-mail to SmithDRay for ordering instructions or order the hardback book online Click Here. For other books I have written on the history of Oak Ridge Click Here for other books by Ray Smith


Back of Oak Ridge is published by SmithDRay Web Pages as a First Edition in limited quantity.  The cost is $15 (plus shipping within the USA). This book describes a people who were displaced from their homes to provide the space needed for the greatest industrial challenge the world has ever known that ushered in the Atomic Energy age and helped win World War II. Click here to order your copy of Back to Oak Ridge. Instructions will be provided by return e-mail.

Back of Oak Ridge also contains the full text and photos contained in SmithDRay's John Hendrix Page. John Hendrix was the Prophet of Oak Ridge whose vision foretold of the city on Black Oak Ridge, the factory (Y-12) in Bear Creek Valley that helped to win the greatest war the world will ever know and the DOE Federal Office building as the "seat of authority."

To obtain a copy of this 42 page book rich in history of the times "back of Oak Ridge," send an e-mail to SmithDRay for ordering instructions.

To view the entire contents as a pdf file, click here

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    Table of Contents


    First Three Pages




About the Author

Grace Raby Crawford

A gentle lady who was 88 years old at the time this web page was first published, Grace Raby Crawford  was unique in many ways.  She lived independently.  Her home was comfortable and welcoming.  She had many memories of her life and held especially dear those memories of Paralee Raby.  In the writing of ?Back of Oak Ridge? she paid special tribute to Paralee.

Her mind was as clear as a bell and she enjoyed talking about the times of her life.  She had lived a full and rewarding life and had much to be proud of.  However, this special memory documented in ?Back of Oak Ridge? is more than just her tribute to Paralee.  It is a documentary of a place in time, a people uprooted, a sacrifice given and a world-changing event that required these people to sacrifice their way of life for the greater good of mankind. It was a joy to know Grace!                                                             

David Ray Smith


The cover photograph of the Perry and Paralee Raby home comes from the Kingston Demolition Range photographs.  Donald Raby has researched and made these photographs available of the old home places taken in 1942 when the government took approximately 1000 properties in present day Oak Ridge and displaced approximately 3000 people to make way for the Manhattan Project.

To obtain copies of this material send e-mail to: SmithDRay.

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Table of Contents






Chapter 1 ? Community Description


Chapter 2 ? The General Store


Chapter 3 ? The Plaque


Chapter 4 ? The Prophet


Chapter 5 ? In Memory of Paralee


Chapter 6 ? The Secret Project


Chapter 7 ? Additional Materials




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I was reared in the Oak Ridge area and lived there until the land was acquired in 1942 by the government for the "Great Project"  - as it was called then.  And because of this, I feel it a great privilege to put into words my memories of the community as it was ? BACK OF OAK RIDGE.


It has been said of the Oak Ridge area, "?from a Wilderness to an atomic city," but many people do not realize that a growing and thriving community existed there.  There were many acres of cultivated fertile fields, beautiful farm homes, churches, schools, post offices, lumber mills, grain mills and at one time an ammunition (powder) mill. Various other small businesses were also in the community.


There were large peach and apple orchards from which fruit was hauled to market in other places. There were cattle, sheep and hogs on most every farm. None of these are found in a ?wilderness.?


The people who lived in this community before 1942 were very proud and independent.  Hard work and consistency was the key to their success.  A slogan of the 1934 graduating class of Robertsville High School (of which I was a member) was, "The door to success is labeled PUSH".  This applied not only to the Robertsville class, but to all who lived in this area, for it seemed they were always striving to push ahead to greater things.  As I hope to make clear in the pages of this story, this was truly a great place!


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First Three Pages



Community Description

Farming was the main source of livelihood in this rural community. Each family grew enough vegetables, corn, hay, and legume crops for it's own use, along with some extra to sell at the market. The extra money received from the sale of their surplus commodities was used to meet the taxes on their land and to help with the education of their children.  They also kept cows and chickens for their milk, butter, eggs, and hogs for the meat for the family table. No one was hungry in this small community. They did not have the fanciest of foods, but they had "down to earth" good eating.

Although this community was located in a remote section of the county, as some might call "back in the sticks", this did not in the least alter the ambition of each household for their children to get a good education.  This educational goal was realized in many cases as children from these families grew up and became teachers, principals, doctors, dentists, lawyers, ministers, and county officials. Some even became State and Federal officials.

Other than the farms, the community was comprised of three schools - Robertsville  High School, Wheat High School, and Scarboro [1] Elementary School. There were also many churches. The mail was distributed by the post office at Edgemoor. There were many country stores to which the residents brought their produce to exchange for the needed items for the home that could not be raised or made.

There were no theaters, country clubs, skating rinks, or any large places of entertainment. There were, however, plays, spelling bees, and old-fashioned pie suppers at the schools.  Fiddlers? contests were held at various places for the entertainment of anyone who wished to attend.  Many parties and dances were held in the homes at which the old as well as the young people took part.

Going to church was really a recreation for the young people then. They would walk many miles to church and in "Revival Time", which was usually in the fall, all the churches would combine for one "Great Campaign for Souls.? The Methodist minister would preach in the Baptist church and visa-versa as denominations were left out and souls were won. The rural roads were filled with young and old people on their way to the revivals.  Many young men, looking for pretty girls to walk home, found their life companions in this way.

Another form of recreation was fishing, which was more for a hobby and for food rather than for selling.  I remember my grandfather taking me fishing with him when I was a very young girl.  We fished from the mouth of a creek going into Clinch River up near the little place of Elza.  This being my first try at fishing, I was very excited.  Grandfather would bait my hook as I was afraid of the red worms we used for bait.  It wasn't long until I go a nibble on my hook, and he showed me how to jerk my pole to catch the fish. When I felt the nibble again I gave the jerk, like he said, and lo and behold I had one!  It was only a sun perch weighing less than a pound but I was as thrilled as if I'd caught a five-pound bass.  Now this may sound dull to the young kids of today, as they have so many kinds of recreation, but to me the walks in the woods and fishing trips were anticipated with much excitement.

Another joy to the younger ones of this little, secluded valley was to go after the cows in the evening and find one with a new calf or to gather eggs and maybe find a "nest full" up in the hayloft.

In the autumn there were "chestnut hunts" for the young people.  They gathered in groups to go hunt for the many chestnuts that had fallen in the forest and which were very good to eat.  The couple who came back with the most chestnuts got the reward of a kiss from each other, in front of the group.  Candy ?pullings? were often held after the molasses (sorgum) was made and were a lot of fun for everyone.  Sorgum molasses was cooked to a ?candy? stage and stirred until it was cool enough to ?pull.?  With a person at each end, each pulled and twisted until the candy became stiff and then laid it out to harden.

Although the chief occupation of this community was farming, some of the men worked away in the coal mines of the Cumberland Mountains. They came home to their families only about every two weeks.  Others found work in the then, far away city of Knoxville and boarded there for weeks at a time, as transportation was a problem. They made as few trips as possible; the only route being by train until in later years the bus became available.  At that time very few of the people owned automobiles.

There was much good timber in this vicinity.  Men from other counties brought in sawmills and bought the timber from the farmers, cutting it into lumber to be shipped out to the city for sale.  This provided employment for the men of the area after their crops were harvested, and brought in much needed extra income.

Hunting and fishing were great hobbies of the "townsfolk". The forests were filled with game, such as squirrel, rabbit, quail, etc.  Many also hunted opossum, skunk, coon, weasel, and fox for their pelts, which they sold for very low prices, but every nickel counted on their income.  There was much work to this bit of income. They had to spend long hours hunting the animals. After the animals were killed and skinned, the pelts were stretched over a pointed board and hung to dry.  They were then packed in boxes for shipment.  Many days went by before the final reward of this work was seen.

These were a closely-knit group of people.  They could be called ?one big family.?  Love was everywhere and each was his ?brother?s keeper? in sickness and in health.

Several black families resided in the area and were always accepted as part of the community.   I remember with great respect one black family that lived near the settlement called Scarboro.  Four generations lived together - the grandmother, mother, son, and grandson.  They were loved by all who knew them.

The grandmother, who we called Aunt Ann, had been a slave before and during the Civil War.  Her daughter, known as Aunt Jose was a child of Aunt Ann and her master. It was a practice of the masters to sire children by the female slaves and sell the children.  But Aunt Ann was freed after the Civil War and got to keep her daughter.

I always felt welcome in their home and shared many meals with them.  Because they were a very religious family a prayer of thanks was always said before a meal.  Aunt Jose often attended New Hope Baptist Church and was always welcome there even though the congregation was white.

The upper class of the community always sought Aunt Jose out to cook for them on special occasions as her reputation of being the "best cook" for miles around was found to be undisputed.  When someone was sick or in need, Aunt Jose prepared her delicious food and carried it to them.

Aunt Josewas also a midwife and delivered many babies in the homes of the poor who felt they could not afford a doctor. She never charged a fee but only took what she was given, which many times was nothing.   She offered these services from a heart filled with love.  No night was too dark or weather too bad for her to go when duty called.  She could be seen walking down the roads carrying a kerosene lantern to light her path.

Other black families lived over on what was then known as Black Oak Ridge, along the road now known as West Outer Drive. They owned small farms and were a very independent and self-supporting people.   There was a Baptist Church in this vicinity that also served as a school for black children.

The services of the black men were always in demand by the farmers and timber men because they were such good workers.  They bought and sold at the same stores with everyone else and received the same respect.  As I have stated before: "each was his brother's keeper," was demonstrated here by black and white alike.

Grace Raby (Crawford) is third from left - Editor


[1] The original name for the family for which this community and school are named spelled their name Scarbrough, but over time the spelling has been altered until the location is now known as Scarboro..

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