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History of Norris Lake/Norris Dam

Norris was the first Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric project, begun in October 1933 and finished in March 1936 on the Clinch River. It is a straight concrete gravity-type dam, 1860 feet long, 265 feet high, and 208 feet thick at the base, equipped with two 50,000-kilowatt generators. Total cost of construction, including acquisition of reservoir lands, was about $36 million. The project relocated approximately 2900 families and caused the removal of over 5,000 gravesites.

The reservoir includes parts of Anderson, Campbell, Union, Claiborne, and Grainger counties. Norris Reservoir spans a 73-mile stretch of the Clinch from the dam to River Ridge at the Claiborne-Grainger county line. The reservoir also covers the lower 56 miles of the Powell River, which empties into the Clinch 10 miles upstream from Norris Dam.

• River: Clinch River

• Length: 809 Miles

• Surface Area: 34,200 Acres

• Volume: 2,040,000 Acre Feet

• Drainage Area: 2,912 Square Miles

• Length: 129 Miles

In building Norris Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority brought on line an enormous source of electricity; tamed the Clinch River; created a lake that includes parts of five counties; paved a scenic highway; and built the planned bedroom community of Norris. All of this changed, overnight, the culture of this once remote part of Tennessee.

Construction started in October 1933 and it was completed in March 1936. This was, in all likelihood, TVA’s best publicized project. Even President Franklin Roosevelt came to see it under construction. It was named for Nebraska Senator George Norris, the legislator who many consider to be the father of TVA.

The workers created a dam that holds back a lake that has 809 miles of shoreline. Norris Dam is an awe inspiring project of tremendous magnitude. Today when you approach it by car you can still get some sense of just how massive it must have felt to the people who saw it completed in the 1930s.

Workers at Norris Dam, Tennessee Valley Authority, 3 November 1933

The building of Norris Dam and its accompanying reservoir required the purchase of over 152,000 acres (62,000 ha) of land. 2,841 families and 5,226 graves were relocated. The community of Loyston, located about 20 miles (32 km) upstream from the dam site, was entirely inundated. Approximately one-third of Caryville, at the head of the reservoir's Cove Creek embayment, was flooded and a number of structures in the town had to be moved. Several smaller 30-foot (9.1 m) earthen dams were built along reservoir tributaries to house fish hatcheries.

In Union County, the most negatively impacted county of the Norris Project, would encounter the inundation of the unincorporated town of Loyston and other scarce communities of the Big Valley region of Union County. After the project's completion, the Big Valley region of Union County, promised its electrification by the project's end, would not receive electricity until the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some of the displaced in the aftermath of the Norris Project would commit suicide, unable to bear the stress of the loss of their lifestyles.

There were a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of people were very much in favor of what went on and of course even when Oak Ridge was built 8 years later, the war effort and the effort to get rid of the hard times of the Depression, a lot of people were in favor of those jobs and those conditions. And of course one of the things the TVA did very well, was it changed people’s lives. We in this valley, got electricity from that process and a lot of people were happy for that. A lot of people were happy for the way it changed lives. So most people have very good thoughts about the TVA and the process they did. But those people who were directly affected by the movement, they never forgave them.

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