The history of ORSA has been compiled by Leonard Abbatiello. Leonard Abbatiello’s father was one of the pioneering members and early Presidents of the club. Leonard began his competitive shooting career at ORSA in the 1950’s as a teenager. Leonard has written articles detailing the early days of the club. As those articles are made available, they will be presented here. Additionally, photographs from the early days of ORSA are provided in the sidebar.
In the early history of the USA, the "Tennessee Valley" was a distant, wild frontier portion of North Carolina and was essentially the "Land of the Cherokees" until the early 1800's. European settlers began homesteading the Valley in the late 1700's and early 1800's. First were the transient loggers who passed through in the late 1790's and the first census of Tennessee recorded at 262,000 people in 1810. This amounts to a population density of about 6/square mile as compared to today where there are 162 residents/square mile. The first permanent residents began living in the valley in about 1810. Those same families were still living here when Oak Ridge was created in 1942 and they were uprooted by the creation of Oak Ridge. More about them shortly.
In essence, the ORSA property has been virtually undisturbed since the time of the Cherokees and the territorial days of Tennessee. In 1942, there were two families living in clapboard homes and a family cemetery, the remnants of which still exist, on our beloved ORSA site. At the Manhattan Projects acquisition, the site consisted of 744 acres of previously timbered woods, corn fields, small gardens, heritage apple and pear trees, streams and wildlife. Those two families were living a dirt-poor sharecropper's subsistence farming existence on the OSSA property. Both of these two families had neither electricity nor running water and both plowed their fields with mules and horses while cooking and heating their homes with open wood burning fireplaces. Their homes were still intact when ORSA was created in 1946. They basically lived off the earth from their own sweat. Some of their children were born, died, and were buried here all within sight of their house. All this on our legacy 744 acres. They were independent, honest, freedom loving East Tennesseans - the salt of the Earth. The property owner was W. H. Browder of Harriman, TN who was paid as little as $11.00/acre for this property in 1943.
Let's talk about those early settlers of this magnificent area. The first family to farm and settle the land was believed to be the Langley Family placing their home just east of current ORSA Clubhouse and the skeet fields. It was initially built as a log structure about 1820-1830's. By the 1850's they were joined by another young family, the Hall family. The Halls placed there home south and west of the current 300 yard points of the 1,000 yard range along the banks of the East Fork of Poplar Creek. These families are believed to have migrated here from Kentucky. Both families shared a common barn located above a natural pond, at the high point 300 yards west of where the current ORSA entry road crosses the ridgeline near the ORSA Main Gate. Both of these families initially lived in log homes which were replaced with 2-story, clapboard structures sometime after 1900. The areas surrounding both homes were orchard trees. Both families had planted heritage apple and pears for their own consumption. During the territorial period, the main transportation route west was the Emory Road, which passed through Oak Ridge coming through what is now Grove Center past the Crossroads Tavern then turned north through Oliver Springs before going into Lansing and on west to Nashville. All of these early settlers truly had a very tough life, battling both nature and the elements to eke out subsistence living as sharecroppers clearing some land and growing corn and other row crops.
The Oak Ridge Turnpike was simply a dirt-gravel road / wagon path going west to Wheat, Dyllis, and Kingston in the 1800's and early 1900's. But, next to it was a major geographical marker, or "Border Tree", providing a major survey point marking the location of The Roane-Anderson County Line. This point defined the "Boundary" between Roane and Anderson County. It was identified as the survey marker location at the creation of Roane and Anderson County in 1801 and identified the corner of the ORSA (W. H. Brower) property as well as the Roane-Anderson County lines. The "Border Tree" was a major survey marker, the exact location of which was lost to road expansion of the Oak Ridge Turnpike in 1951. This "Border Oak" was a huge oak tree, probably at least 225-250 years old at its removal. It was removed because it was located inside of what is now the south lane of the O.R.T.P.
Across the road from the Langley house was the East Fork Missionary Baptist Church which formed a congregation which in about 1905 and built a nice, clapboard worship hall and an adjacent church cemetery, which now contains about 100 burials. Sarah M. Langley is buried here. She was buried here in 1922 at the age of 72. Sarah M. Langley is believed to have been born in the first Langley house in 1850 and is the daughter of Ephraim Langley who was buried in the Langley-Hall family cemetery in 1884. After the Manhattan Project's acquisition of the land, the church was used a Girl Scout Summer camping facility during the late 1940-1950 period then it was removed. The Church cemetery and the original Langley-Hall family cemetery, which dates from before 1870, both remain today. The Langley-Hall family cemetery is located about 160 feet west of the current Indoor Range on ORSA property and contains 5 known burials from the 1870-1884. There may be up to 20 more Langley-Hall burials in this family cemetery. This land cradled the births and deaths of at least 3 generations, and maybe 4 generations, of the Langley-Hall families.
The TVA "New Deal" began serious rural electrification projects in Tennessee in 1934. The Langley and Hall families who had been living here for generations were still not electrified by 1943 when The Manhattan Project acquired the farm. These families also did not own any automobiles or trucks. Both families were estimated to be earning approximately $100/year when they were forced to leave the area.
"Oak Ridge" was created by the Manhattan Project as "The Clinton Demolition Range", in 1943 when there were no existing recreational facilities. But these new residents were resourceful. In February 1946, 55 early Oak Ridgers met in the old Jefferson Recreation Hall to investigate the possibilities of a recreational shooting range. This resulted in a committee and Bob Dunbar suggesting a suitable location followed by the development of a "use" agreement with AEC. Then 24 founders moved forward creating the first NRA ORSA Charter in 1947. Our forefathers were driven by the need for challenging recreational activity in a muddy and isolated location. This was the birth of ORSA.
Why was there an interest in the recreational shooting sports? Many of Oak Ridge's new residents had previously been competitive recreational sportsman. Our founders recognized that safely conducted shooting sports offered the opportunity for an individual to develop self-control growing to become a better person. It is a sport that is known to develop individual responsibility, integrity, physical motor skills control, team cooperation, and mental self-control. This is done through an independent, unbiased system offering instantaneous feedback to the participant. Everyone first challenges himself to become better. Every shot fired is scored for value and it is oneself responsibility to do it well, not once but many times. One does not have to wait for results and the projectiles flight cannot be recalled or its impact location changed. Every shooting sport has these characteristics. It does not matter if its archery, skeet, trap, pistol, rifle, cowboy sports or sporting clay and conservation, safety and youth education. Most of our founding fathers were managers, researchers, or skilled people who valued becoming a better person and they saw value in that the shooting sports provided a constructive, competitive opportunity while not being limited by a persons' sex, size, strength or other features.
Some of the principals and original ORSA "NRA Charter Signatories" were: Robert (Bob) Dunbar, a pistol shooter. He was the Civil Engineer for Corps of Engineers. Bob originally surveyed all Oak Ridge, selecting the 3 Plant locations, and the residential area roads. Bob Dunbar had surveyed the complete Oak Ridge Site establishing the "Oak Ridge" grid system layout, of 340 13' west of true North. Originally, most major grid intersections had "Batter Board" markers indicating their intersection locations this was necessary because of the limited number of roads in those areas distant from the TVA lakes. Other "Charter Members" included: W. H. McDonald, Ken Bahler, Evan Means, Charles Asmanes, Anthony A. Abbatiello, Bill Davy, Sr., Don Cline, Deb Brannon, Bill Rathcamp, R.E. McHenry, Bill Brundage, Bill Collins, Aden Ison, and Winnie Bahler. The Last living Charter Member was Charles Asmanes who died in 2012. This resulted in the first "ORSA Constitution" dated March 12, 1946, prior to the NRA ORSA Charter of 1947. These are our "Founding Fathers" to whom we will be forever indebted.
The first ranges were the converted Langley-Hall farm fields, which became the current 30 point 22 Cal 100 yard range and the adjacent 50 yard pistol range. Both of these ranges exist today. Skeet and trap shotgun sites were established west of the Langley house in 1946. The first Indoor Range was the old Langley Barn. The Old Barn was located at the top of the hill, above the pond in what is now the picnic / tractor storage area.
With the establishment of the first ORSA NRA Charter in 1947, Oak Ridge had competitive shooting groups active in rifle, pistol, skeet and trap by the winter of that year. Oak Ridgers began to network with surrounding recreational shooting clubs in Harriman, Knoxville, Kingsport, Clinton, and others. They then established "Plant" competitive leagues for K-25, Y-12 and ORNL in pistol, rifle, and skeet. Members began traveling to distant cities to compete.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ORSA Board of Directors for taking the initiative to clear the area around the Langley-Hall Cemetery and for clearing a path from the current Indoor Range again making the Cemetery accessible after nearly 65 years of being overgrown. Thank you, Board!
In a following article I will document "The Growth of ORSA" and local recreational and competitive shooting sports as well as the development of the facilities to include the first "Main Club House", the creation of a 6 point 300 yard 30 caliber High Power Range, Expansion to a 500 yard range, a pot-bellied stove heated real indoor range, and the follow-on masonry Indoor Range into the facilities and dynamic shooting sports club that we have today. This article outlines the use from the early residents up to the purchase of our ORSA property up to its transfer from AEC/DOE to ORSA on September 11, 1958 and the early development of the shooting ranges from farm fields. But more importantly, it lays the groundwork for the development of responsible, caring members of our community from our young women and men.
ORSA members began competing, first amongst themselves, then with anybody else interested in competitive shooting. But first, they had to develop facilities and acquire shooting equipment. In a previous article, I outlined how the Langley-Hall families had farmed the area as sharecroppers for more than 100 years without electricity or running water. The area had two old farmhouses, an old barn, and several depleted crop fields along with some pastures and pond in 1943. Shooting facilities did not exist so that became the first order of business in 1946.
The creation of shooting ranges.
The first shooting facilities were a Shotgun Skeet Range, a 100 yard Small Bore Rifle Range and a 50 yard Pistol Range. As winter was approaching, conversion of the old Langley Barn was in order as a makeshift indoor range offering some protection from the harsh, cold wind and rain. It did not extend a full 50 feet indoors. This meant that the targets were mounted outside, shooting went on. Other facilities such as a casting pond were established at the old cattle watering hole and a picnic area built overlooking the pond. A "fire pit" was built near the picnic tables and this was the site of many marvelous fall fish fries with hushpuppies with all the fixings'. The fish were contributed by those members who were avid fisherman who had spent the spring catching the crappie from the many TVA lakes surrounding Oak Ridge. A fine fall picnic was enjoyed by everyone's family and cooked to perfection by Mr. Aden Ison. The new ORSA facilities began to fulfil the dream of those 55 people who met on that cold February day in 1946. ORSA was a growing fraternity of enthusiastic sportsmen.
Scatter gun competitions began as soon as a low and high house could be constructed, certainly before that first summer of 1947. Rifle and pistol competitions were held all summer long in 1947, with a 100-yard Small-bore Rifle Prone Regional Championship being held in September 1947. It was agreed to hold a championship annually. By now it was early 1948, many competitive leagues had been established with the surrounding communities in small-bore rifle, pistol and both skeet and trap as well as the blossoming field archery. ORSA membership had reached more than 80 people. People were whetting their appetite for a real clubhouse and possibly even a real indoor range capable of being heated. Interest was growing in creating a high power rifle range suitable for sighting in high power hunting rifles. Col. Lewis Ronininger was the Commanding Officer of the 718th Engineer Company, US Army; concurrently, he needed a range suitable for accomplishing his men's required annual military qualification firing. ORSA had the land and AEC permission for a range; Col. Roninger had the engineers, concrete, and heavy equipment necessary therefore he volunteered to build ORSA a range. First a 5 point 200 yard facility, then a 6 point, 300 yard High Power range next to the small-bore Rifle Range. Varoom. It was a reality and it was borne and grew to a 300 yard High Power Range within a year, with expansion capabilities to extend out to 500 yards. It cost the ORSA membership nothing. Col. Roninger also became an Oak Ridge resident and ORSA member. The shooting sports in Oak Ridge continued to expand.
Members wanted both a Clubhouse and an Indoor Range. Volunteers initiated a search for excessed local buildings that might be repurposed for these 2 uses as our needs continued to grow. The AEC was destroying many unneeded buildings as they were unwanted fire hazards. One administrative building at old the Bus Terminal, met this criterion. ORSA asked and was granted permission to disassemble and move this building. It became the first ORSA Clubhouse and was reconstructed with a Grand Fireplace constructed from the original chimney rock of the Langley House which had been demolished nearby. These chimney rocks were hand-cut limestone, over 100 years old in 1950. An old single floor tarpaper covered WWII enlisted mans "barracks", located at the site of the Oak Special Engineering Detachment billets proved to be surplus, available, and just the right length to contain a 50 foot Indoor Range. It was even complete with a "Potbellied Stove" to heat it. Voila. ORSA had an Indoor Range also acquired at no cost. By 1950 all of these facilities were operational and ORSA was continuing to grow. It now initiated both Boy Scout and youth marksmanship program and an active local conservation effort, more about these later.
The early shooting and first Competitions began in earnest during the summer of 1947 and expanded every year thereafter. ORSA members became more proficient and began travelling to competitions all over the Eastern U.S. High Power rifle competition began to be the focus of teaching and developing the skills of the many of the new shooters. When competition began in 1948, the first ORSA Championship was won by W. D. Cline with a score of only 203. By 1953, the fifth ORSA championship was won with a score of 232, (NMC). These early ORSA Annual Championships were only high-power rifle competitions, but by the 6TH year the membership decided to expand it into a multi-sport ORSA competition incorporating High Power Rifle, Pistol, Skeet, and Archery. Oak Ridgers were becoming known as competitive rifleman everywhere in the USA. By then, ORSA riflemen were attending the National Matches in Camp Perry, Ohio and had been selected to represent all of Tennessee. An Oak Ridge resident, R.B. Simpson, was even a member of the All Army Marksmanship Unit - the best marksmen within the US. While shooting with be best at Camp Perry ORSA Team members became interested in 1,000 yard long range competitions, specifically the Wimbledon Trophy Match and began building rifles and equipment capable of competing in this prestigious and most demanding of all marksmanship competitions. During the early 1950's rifles and telescopic sights were not available for purchase. Suitable equipment was in short supply to say the least, so Oak Ridge engineers began building both long range rifles and optical telescope equipment which would allow them to compete at the national level. Other Oak Ridgers were becoming nationally known for their expertise in other segments of the shooting sports. Presley Kendall-small-bore rifle, R. J. Spurling All National Guard Rifle Team and others. In 1957, the ORSA Long Range Rifle Team won the Port Clinton Trophy, the Civilian National Championship of the Wimbledon Match. This was an unbelievable accomplishment for a shooting team which did not exist, nor did it have a shooting range 10 years previously. I was a shooting member of that landmark 1957 Tennessee Rifle Team at the age of 17. The 1957 team members were: W. H. Davy, W. E. Brundage, Zeke Hensley, A. A. Abbatiello, and Red E. McHenry. Red E. McHenry also served as the coach. By the mid-1950's the ORSA 6 point range and was hosting the Regional High Power competitions attended by the best rifle shooters in the Eastern U.S.
Since at this time there were only 3 long range 1,000 yard ranges operating in the eastern U.S., ORSA members became interested in expanding by building a 1,000 yard 24 point new range facility with firing positions a 200, 300, 600, and 1,000 yards. In April 1954, a work team headed by Anthony A. Abbatiello surveyed a single point 1,000 yard test range and a test target buttress was then installed. That work team consisted of A. A. Abbatiello, L. A. Abbatiello, R. E. McHenry, W. H. Davy and Stan Sosnoski. The test target buttress was two 36" doors. This was the birth of the serious long range 1,000-yard shooting in Oak Ridge. By the spring of 1962 a new High Power 24-point, 1,000-yard competition range was under construction. The first inaugural competition was held on August 1, 1962 with 100+ registered competitors. This range was later expanded to 30 firing points wide. All of the major civilian and military teams were now attending the competitions in our City. Oak Ridge was attracting 125-150 of this Countries best High-Power rifleman here on 5 weekends every summer. By this time, ORSA Team members were consistently shooting scores in the high 240's (NMC) and could compete with the best anywhere. Anthony A. Abbatiello won the Elijah Root Metal as one of the 8 best civilian riflemen in the USA in 1967. Oak Ridgers were becoming "Distinguished Rifleman" and were being selected for the "Presidents 100" routinely. Oak Ridge had become known for hosting the best of the best competitions as well as being some of the best rifleman around. Incorporated into this new range was the most advanced "Para Leg Target Carrier" which modernized the old "window frame" type target frames which had been the military range standard since the 1900's. A. A. Abbatiello designed, developed, and published this new "Para Leg Target Carrier" during 1953-1963. It had the advantages of being, friction free, nearly maintenance free, lighter and less costly. It became the US standard in the 1960's for all new ranges and was incorporated into the NRA Whittington Shooting Facilities in New Mexico and many other military installations world-wide.
The second major facilities replacement / expansion was the construction of a masonry 50 foot indoor heated range for winter use. This major financial undertaking required the issuance of more "ORSA Bonds" to fund its construction. The cost of this indoor range was $40,000. ORSA's original bonds were retired and new bonds were issued. To build this range, ORSA borrowed $30,000 secured by the already owned land which had been purchased on 9/10/1958 from the AEC. The new Indoor Range was completed in April 1967.
In parallel with the expansion of ORSA facilities, other community centered programs were also being developed. Community Support Activities such as Youth shooting, scouting, conservation and Environmental Activities. ORSA members were stalwarts in promoting environmental responsibility and conservation as it was then known. The membership planted lespedeza and milo as feed grains to feed quail on the property. Quail hatchlings were purchased in the spring and nurtured throughout the summer until they were released in the late fall. Fish were likewise grown in the pond for local enjoyment. Evan Means, the local newspaper Sports Reporter, was responsible for many of these activities.
High power competition was indeed an infectious sport. ORSA began to field several teams in every match in the Southeast. Long range 1,000 yard teams became the mainstay as did effective National Match Course teams. Some of the members were the husband and wife pair of Bill and Lolly Kelly, Carl Brewster, Ed Baily, Jack Huff, Arvin Quist, Vernon Raaen, and Bert Serles. The Kelly's operated nearly every match as a Range Officer and Statistical Officer team during the 1960's and 1970's. These teams twice won the National Civilian 1,000 yard Championship, Wimbledon Trophy and one the Romanian Trophy. The scatter gunners were no less prolific as those teams made a significant mark in the shooting annals. The degree of personal dedication to ORSA was almost unbelievable. One member, Col. Alexander, would drive nearly every weekend from Inman, SC to shoot or participate in events.
In 1957, I enter the University of Tennessee and became a shooting member of the University Rifle Team. We competed with other Universities all over the Southeast. I was able to "Letter" my four years at UT. I was also humbled to be a member of the 1960 Tennessee Team who won the Collegiate National Championship, The William Randolph Hurst Trophy. Following graduation, I reported to US Army duty and was assigned to Fort Sill OK, then Fort Bragg, NC becoming the Commanding Officer of the XVIII Corps Marksmanship Unit.
In 1967, the community was even fortunate enough to attract other eminent members of the shooting community to become residents after retiring from the services. The most notable person being "Big Ed" Neusel who previously was a member of the "All Marine Rifle Team". He established Big Ed's Pizza and the family is still a member of this community. Competitive and recreational rifle and pistol shooting has been a part of our culture for over 75 years and it has formed a part of building a safe, responsible community. Generations of young men and women have learned the principles of safe gun handling while growing up into responsible citizens. They have grown to be professionals of every type; lawyers, doctors, engineers, housewife, business leaders, Army Officers and even political leaders. They have all learned the value of being a "straight shooter" in the true sense of the statement. It has been accomplished safely and with the respect required of every person and action.
Today, ORSA forms a much larger, far reaching, organization than anyone could realize back in 1946 but the seeds planted then have truly blossomed into a plant of gigantic proportions. Tomorrow will bring even more shooting sports successes. Today, a young archer is practicing becoming possibly the first women's archery Olympic champion here on our ranges. As the ORSA membership passes 3,000 and shooting ranges become ever so more precious in populated areas our invaluable resource will grow in popularity and importance. We need to foster both the shooting sports and the communities interaction with it and our developing sportsmans.