TVA In Southern Appalachia

James and Lura Pressley

In the late 1930s and early 1940s TVA started building dams in southern Appalachia to provide electricity to rural citizens and to aid in the war effort of WWII.

The Deer Hunter’s Grandmother, Lura, lived in Judson-a town that now lies at the bottom of Fontana Lake. In 1942 TVA begin construction on Fontana Dam-which is the highest concrete dam east of the Rockies. Lura’s family and many others had to leave their homes to make way for the lake that resulted from the dam. Each winter the TVA pulls the water level down-in places you can see foundations of homes and business from that era-still existing, buried under the water all these years.

I grew up close to 4 TVA lakes. Going to the lake has always been a favorite summer activity for us-boating, fishing, swimming, knee boarding- I’ve enjoyed all of it at our local lakes never really thinking about what others lost for the greater good of electricity.

front steps

The Deer Hunter’s Aunt and Uncle stay at an old house that sits directly in front of a TVA lake. Earlier this summer we had the good fortune of spending the day with them. Chitter and Chatter are sitting on the front steps of the farm house, which is over 100 years old.

treasure hunting

The girls enjoyed swimming, but spent most of the time- searching for treasure.

treasures from the lake

Chitter found these neat pieces. I suppose the blue is from a cobalt bottle, the 2 similar pieces look like old plate or bowl pieces, and the white piece is the inside of an old metal canning lid.

lake treasures

Chatter found these old plate shards and an old dime. After Chatter found the first piece- they were both hooked, hunting treasure around the lake. They asked where the items came from “who owned the pieces?” they wanted to know.

The question brought to mind these options; the pieces could have come from the old homes covered by the lake, from “modern day” trash thrown over the sides of boats or washed into the lake from campsites or from trash dumps that are now under the lake (before there were garbage dumps folks dumped their trash in the woods a favorite treasure hunting place for us).

lake view

The picture above would have been the view from the old farm house-well minus the lake, the boats and the docks. I tried to imagine what it must have looked like-trees, trails, cabins, cornfields, cows, chickens, kids running barefoot- all came to mind.

My line of thinking led me to put myself in the shoes of folks like Lura who were forced to move due to the construction of TVA Dams. I don’t think I’d have been happy to leave my home for some new fangled electricity.

And the folks who lived in the old farm house-they had a front seat view to the changes. How many neighbors did they loose? Back in those days travel here in the mountains was mostly still by foot or horse-did it make their travel routes longer or did they get a boat to cross the lake in?

You know how your mind forgets things-especially early in the morning. I can just imagine waking up in that old farm house thinking “I’m going to pick some wild grapes down by the creek today”-only to remember there wasn’t a creek or any grapes-but a lake of water in the holler where they use to be.

Anyone who has seen “O Brother Where Art Thou?” will recall the ending scenes of Everette trying to get his wife’s ring before the valley is flooded with the new lake. Of course TVA’s lakes were slow to rise to their full level-but it does make you think about all the things covered by the waters of the TVA.


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  • Reply
    Wilson Fullagar
    October 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Hello, I’m with The WCU Film program documentary class. We’re trying to make a documentary about Judson City and The Road to Nowhere. We’re looking for any and all sources we can find for more information about the various inconsistencies with the TVA records of the dams construction and the people of Judson City. If you would like to help us with our project it would be greatly appreciated.

  • Reply
    Charlotte Woody
    March 4, 2012 at 10:51 am

    My husband’s family lived in Fontana Village when it was a TVA construction camp during the building of Fontana Dam. His father worked for TVA. He was only there about three years, but he still feels like he is going “home” when we return to the area — and I have come to feel that way as well, although I grew up many, many miles from those mountains. Even though TVA provided many benefits, including a job for his family, and even as we soak up the beauty of Fontana Lake, those families who had to give up their homes because of it tug at our heartstrings.

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    August 12, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    A lot of the things TVA has done for the area has been bitter sweet, a lot of us long for the way things use to be, but at the same time we enjoy our heat and air conditioning to, many jobs were created where there were none. The job I have relies on TVA, we buy our power from them and distribute it to the local homes and businesses, we take it for-granted a lot of times, this past April was a good example when pretty much all North Alabama was out of power for several days. Then you get to thinking do I really want to go back to the way it use to be?

  • Reply
    September 19, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Great post. I am sure your girls will remember this history to pass on. I love to imagine what life was like for those people who had to leave their homes. My parents were one of the many families who had to leave their home in a small town called Durkee due to a freeway being put right through the middle of where the house stood.

  • Reply
    September 16, 2008 at 8:18 am

    I grew up in Western Ky. with the huge TVA towers looming in the background. My grandfather and dad both worked for Peabody Coal on the dragline which always sat with TVA as a backdrop.
    I, too, enjoyed the TVA man made lakes as a kid.
    Good memories.

  • Reply
    September 14, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Such an interesting post, Tipper! Really makes you think. I can just imagine the heartbreak of those poor people who had to leave their homes. I know of a reservoir in Wyoming and a lake in northern California that both have towns under them also. Must have been quite common.

  • Reply
    September 14, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Those old pieces seem to speak to the girls from the past. They make me think of a nearby lake (Candlewood)–the building of which had a similar affect on Danbury, Connecticut. It must have been really something to witness that back then.
    God bless, Tipper.

  • Reply
    glenda beall
    September 13, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Gary Carden has written a play, Birdell, which plays in Murphy on Sept. 19 at the Learning Center and this play tells the story of a woman whose life was changed by the TVA and progress here in our mountains.I hope those who live near Murphy, NC will come and see this play.
    Bobbie Curtis of Lenoir NC plays the 83 year old Birdell.

  • Reply
    Julie O'Neill
    September 13, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for so faithfully leaving comments on my site! I think most people just read my blog and then tell me what they think through email or private chats…and many just read and move on, mysteriously!
    I read your blog often, but leave comments less often. I love how you integrate pictures so well with what you are teaching.
    I had no idea that homes were destroyed for these TVA dams. All of history contains stories of the price of “modernization”.

  • Reply
    September 13, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Hey Tipper. I just love your pictures you have with your story.
    I can’t imagine what I would feel if someone came to my farm and said they need to put it under water. I can imagine what Farm Man would say, which couldn’t be repeated out loud.lol..
    Great post.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    September 13, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Morning Tipper! A bittersweet post. Cannot imagine how those in the face of “progress” felt
    having to relocate or lose their belongings. And incredible your husband’s grandmother’s home is at the bottom of one of those lakes! Yikes! It must be fun for the girls and children to search for something/anything which might shed light on their heritage. Thank you for sharing that interesting piece of history!
    Have a wonderful weekend, Tipper! Petra

  • Reply
    Razor Family Farms
    September 13, 2008 at 12:27 am

    We have such a lake in Virginia (Smith Mountain Lake) and it was once a valley with churches, graves, swingsets, houses, and barns. Divers report an entire underground world — and the swings occasionally float up. Other things too. It’s amazing to think about it.
    Excellent post!
    Congratulations on your award from Fishing Guy!

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    September 12, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Love the pictures, Tipper…. I grew up near Ft. Loudon Lake but we live near Norris Dam now, and it also was one of the communities that got flooded after the dam was finished- you have to be careful running a boat up and down the lake because of all the submerged silos!

  • Reply
    Queen of planet Hotflash
    September 12, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Wonderful post.. people forget so easily unless they experienced it.
    Great treasures to find :o)

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I have a little something for you over at my Writing Nook. 😉

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    A lot of people lose things in the name of progress. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. You bring to mind a lot of interesting points.

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    September 12, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Love your post Tipper 🙂 Your girls are so fun – treasure hunting – it’s amazing what my girls bring in as “treasures” – mostly rocks. . . Here there’s lots of reservoirs, like your lakes, used to keep water around for drought season, instead of electricity. Have a great weekend 🙂

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    September 12, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Tipper: Life goes on as life moves along. These changes were of benifit of the life in the mountains. I think they are good when I consider I would have never met you if the modern life had never been invented. I really enjoyed the new song, Paul just did a wonderful rendition of the song.
    “O Brother Where Art Thou” is one of my favorite and the horny toad mystery is my favorite scene.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Such an interesting post. My first knowledge of TVA was a college roommate’s soon to be hubby went to work for TVA.
    I’d sure like hunting for those treasures with your girls. I so love their sense of adventure.
    The front doors on that front porch and the rockers make for a lovely scene.

  • Reply
    noble pig
    September 12, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    It’s like sea glass but in a lake. When we go to sea glass beach here in California, the blue glass which is rare all came from old Milk of Magnesia bottles when they were made of glass.

  • Reply
    The Tile Lady
    September 12, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Oh, Tipper, this was a wonderful post! My husband’s family is from both sides of the TVA redirect of the Tennessee River and some of the places are under the water now. It’s sad how so many people had to move because of the damming of waterways for the sake of electricity. The lost heritage! One of your comments stated they could sometimes see tombstones when the lake they knew of was a drained, but I thought all cemeteries had to be moved prior to the damming. It might be that the powers-that-be weren’t always as careful as they should have been! Really a shame.
    Your blog has been given an award! Come by my blog and retrieve it and then pass it in. Thanks for such a wonderful blog!

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    September 12, 2008 at 9:46 am

    This is such an interesting story. Always heard about companies using train tracks to take people’s land, but water? Wow!
    The girls always find interesting things when they go treasure hunting and I love looking at their finds.
    Just heard about the weather headed your way. You all take care, ok? I’ll be praying for you. xxoo

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 12, 2008 at 9:34 am

    I used to love “treasure hunting”. I still have some of the rocks and shells I found!
    You know, Tipper, if Judson had not been flooded there would have been no Deer Hunter or Chitter and Chatter. Lura had to leave Judson when the valley was flooded and that was when she met her future husband—the Deer Hunters Grandfather.
    A lot of lives are different today because of electricity!!!

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 7:17 am

    We have one of those lakes here.
    I recently put two and two together. I knew there are road continuations on both sides of the lake,but I just didn’t think how they got across what was once a river. A bunch of road names in our area have Ferry in it. The first part of the name is usually a common local name. The roads all led to a ferry crossing on the river and was named for the family who either owned the land or operated the ferry. That was a complete “DUUH” moment for me.
    Our lake has the summer treasues as well.
    You can see the old tombstones sometimes.
    I try to picture what it was like back then too.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 1:13 am

    Oh, the history of that 100 year old farmhouse. What stories it could tell. Thank you for sharing the story of this area and the dams that were built. I wouldn’t have wanted to leave my home for some new-fangled electricity either.
    Enjoyed my visit, as always.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 1:12 am

    As I first began reading your post, I thought of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”. I vaguely remember my dad saying something about a small town where he used to live in Oklahoma having a lake built over it. I wish I’d been more curious when he was alive to ask him about it.
    It’s funny the things that interest us as we get older that didn’t when we were younger, but wish they had!

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    September 12, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Wow. It does make me very sad to think of those folks who were forced to give up their homes–their entire towns. Makes me wonder how the TVA has the authority to do that. What about property rights? True, there’s the doctrine of “eminent domain” that allows the state to seize the private property of a citizen without his consent (but with due compensation)…most commonly for public utilites.
    But – I just don’t like it!

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    September 12, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Wow. It does make me very sad to think of those folks who were forced to give up their homes–their entire towns. Makes me wonder how the TVA has the authority to do that. What about property rights? True, there’s the doctrine of “eminent domain” that allows the state to seize the private property of a citizen without his consent (but with due compensation)…most commonly for public utilites.
    But – I just don’t like it!

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Yes I’ve seen OH Brother where Art Thou about 50 million times. I have it on DVD, and I have it recorded on about 7 VCR tapes. I have both music CD’s too. I did think about that movie as I was reading the treasures that the lake consumed.
    Did you get my email today about the CD?

  • Reply
    City Mouse
    September 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    I LOVE finding treasure along the water! This reminds me of so many things – Along the Atlantic, we used to collect “beach glass” – old glass pieces worn smooth by ages of waves. Looks like gems. Also, our local lake near by us in Saranac Lake (it’s called Lake Flower) was also dammed and created right over part of the old town in the mid-1800s. Cool stuff!

  • Reply
    September 11, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    What a lovely lake. Of course, I am from the Great Lakes state of Michigan which also has hundreds of inland lakes as well. If you’ve not been to one of the Great Lakes, you might be surprised to know that if someone were to take you there and you did not know you were in Michigan, you would think you were at the ocean. Except for the lack of salt and really BIG-FINNED inhabitants, it’s pretty much the same experience! Everyone should visit a Great Lake at least once in their life, and might I suggest Lake Michigan or Lake Superior if you are having trouble deciding which one. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 11, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    When I was reading this, I could only thing of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” Love this post. Like always so full of history and thoughtfulness. The pictures are fantastic!

  • Reply
    September 11, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Wow, Tipper! That is a great post!
    I never thought about it before. I’m gonna have to start investigating the lakes around here.

  • Reply
    The Texican
    September 11, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Most modern trash dumped from boats is plastic or paper. Those old shards are probably from days gone by. We used to play store by setting up a board between two washtubs to act as a counter. We got old bottles and tobacco tins from the family dump in the hollow next to the house and placed them on the board to sell to one another. I hate to think of the treasures we threw away in those days. Pappy

  • Reply
    September 11, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I grew up near Watauga Lake and spent many happy hours playing there and spending the night at my uncle’s cabin on the lake. I used to love imagining what that place was like before it was flooded by the dam. Several years ago they drained the lake, and we were able to see what remained of the old town of Butler. My Grandma always loved to tell about people she knew who had to move away from their homes there when it was flooded. It’s an interesting part of our heritage.

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