When the U.S. Army came to what is now Oak Ridge, TN in 1942 with the Manhattan Project, one thousand families on 56,000 plus acres had to be moved. Half of those acres were in Roane County, the area where K-25 and X-10 are now.
Of the people who were ordered to leave on very short notice, Congressman John Jennings, Jr. tried to render some help, and in a telegram to President Roosevelt, pleaded that “their plight is desperate.” Payment and aid were urgently needed for relocation. The following comments are from Dorathy Moneymaker, one of many whose families had to leave from the Wheat community in Roane County in early 1943.
“I want to tell you, my people had lived in the Wheat section for four generations. I don’t mean Moneymakers, they were new people. They just lived there 10 years, but I want to tell you a funny thing. It wasn’t funny when it happened, but it was funny.
“We didn’t get out in time and we were supposed to be out by the last day of ’42. They came to evict us, and the man come up to the door and he wanted to know where my husband was, and I said he was at work. He was already working up here in Oak Ridge, and he said, ‘Well, I come to evict, serve eviction papers on you, so I’ll just serve them on you.’
“Now, I was expecting our first baby, and he was born on the fourteenth day of January in 1943, and he weighed well over eight pounds. So, you know very good and well I was showing. I stepped back and I said to him, ‘Did you know that there is a law in the state of Tennessee that will not allow you to evict a pregnant woman?’ And he was so amazed, he almost stepped off the front porch. He never did come back.
“I didn’t know that there was a law and I just made it up, but come to find out there was one. But we didn’t get out until April of ’43, and as I told you that child was born on the fourteenth of January.
“We went down to Blair Road to where the gate was and I was in labor. We started to Harriman Hospital and the man at the gate wanted to see my card. I didn’t have one and so they wouldn’t let me through, and me in labor now, mind you. And so, they let my husband through because he had one.
“He went to Oliver Springs and got a doctor and brought him down there and let me go with him, let me go with the doctor, but the doctor was so uneasy that he brought his nurse with him when he come. But we got to the Harriman Hospital.
“The community had been there for a long time and had been known as Bald Hill. That was because all the trees on the hills had been cut down, I guess they chopped them down back then. When we got our first post office in the Wheat community, our postmaster was Henry Franklin Wheat, and they named the community Wheat after our first postmaster.
“There was a building that had been used for a school and a church up on the hill not too far from where the old church that is still there. And when they put up a new church they moved the old building down the hill across the road and put it down there where they have got George Jones Memorial Baptist Church. It was Wheat post office and there was a store and they added five rooms so the family could live there.
“If you have ever read We’ll Call it Wheat, which is in the city library, you will find that they had a school in the Wheat community when it was Bald Hill. They were subscription schools. The people that come pay for it. It usually lasted about three to four months.
“Tennessee became a state on June 1, 1796, but there was no levy on a tax to establish a public school until well into the 1800’s. They had private schools, subscription schools, they had schools at churches, there was lots of teaching went on in the homes, not just your children, but if the neighbor children wanted to come in that was alright too.
“The Robinson Schoolhouse is the first one I have a date on. It was in 1850, and there were other schools besides that, but I don’t have exact dates on it. This Robinson Schoolhouse, it states that it was where the Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Roane College later stood. Did you know that the Wheat community had a Roane College before we had a Roane College?
“It was a four-year accredited. Also our high school, when it became a high school, it was one of the accredited schools. Many of the people — and I will not name neighborhoods that had schools — but they were not qualified. So people would come to Wheat and go to school so that they could get into college.
“We have a Homecoming the first Sunday in October of every year. And you can get in there then, but you go up to the top of the hill and instead of turning to the left where the church is, you turn to the right and go out on the top of the hill, which you can’t do now because it is covered with trees, but out there is where the Roane College was, but some of the other schools was in a close connection, it was just Roane College and it was accredited.
“It eventually, now, it had no state help until it become Wheat High School. Then Roane College moved into the Wheat High School building and it ceased to exist. I’m going to tell you where the high school sat. You know where Blair Road is? And the Turnpike, before you get to that Blair Road light you are going through the football field of the Wheat High School. The school sat in the corner of Blair Road at that right and the Turnpike. For a long time it sat there. Then it was torn down. I think some of the steps are still there, but anyways that’s where it was, but it grew gradually; I can remember when they added to it.
“We had a Delco, thing-a-ma-jig that had water in the school, before we got regular sewage and so forth. The school sat where I told you there in that corner.
“Just across there on the other side is where my grandmother and grandfather lived there. He was a rural delivery mailman. For years and years. I forgot how long, I think I wrote it down somewhere. You see my memory isn’t getting short, it’s just that I know so much it is hard to remember. You see he carried it on horseback. He wouldn’t get off his horse and leave the mail on it. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he did one route, and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday he did the other route. The women along the routes would fix him a plate of food and he would sit on the horse and eat it.
“Let’s see. Back to that Roane College though. It was a two story house when it was built. They had been Poplar Creek Seminary before that in 1877, and W.H. Crawford, well, he was the president and teacher of the Poplar Creek Seminary, but he was also a Common Presbyterian preacher. He went to Washington College and then there was talking about land being given.
“A Pyatt couple gave land in 1878, George and Lucinda McKinney-Jones donated 100 acres in 1879. All denominations were involved in all the schools and all the churches. Let me tell you how we had churches back then. We had two buildings and three denominations.
“Now, if you know where the turn off to Lenoir City is down there, across from there you will see a marker where the Presbyterian Church sat. My maternal grandfather gave the land for that, but it was used for dangerous materials during the war, and so it had to be torn down.
“On the first Sunday in every month, we met at the Baptist Church, that one that is still standing, and had Sunday school, all denominations and those that didn’t even have the Lord. Didn’t have nowhere to go, no television to watch, so they all came to church. The Baptist preacher would come and preach.
“Then the second Sunday in the month, we would meet out at the Common Presbyterian Church, all of us had Sunday school. Then we would have the Common Presbyterian preacher to preach. He usually lived in Oliver Springs. He had a church in Oliver Springs, Coalfield, Wheat, and Lawnville. That was the other one. On the fifth Sundays, he went to Scarboro and had church.
“But anyway, the third Sunday in the month, the Wheat community went back to the Baptist Church and had Sunday school. Oh, and by the way, it didn’t matter whether your Sunday school teacher was of the same denomination your family was or not. We didn’t ask them, and didn’t know to ask them. We would have Sunday school.
“We didn’t have any preacher that Sunday. So, us young’uns enjoyed it more than anything else because we got out and played together while the parents gossiped with each other.
“And then on the fourth Sunday we went back to the Common Presbyterian Church and after Sunday school the Methodist minister preached. Now for my life, I can’t remember what we did on the fifth Sundays, but I am sure we had Sunday school. I can’t say what church we met in, I don’t know who even decided it, but any way we had it.”
Source: Center for Oak Ridge Oral History Panel Discussion: Wheat Community “The Way We Were: Pre-Oak Ridge and Early Oak Ridge” Interviewed by Patricia Clark; Transcribed by Jordan H. Reed on July 10, 2000. This was a videotape received from the American Museum of Science and Energy.