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Norris, TN -- East Tennessee's Pride

By John Disque

While American hope is fading and American pride is all but extinct there's no better time than now to tell the story of Norris TN.

clinch river
Clinch River
norris dam
Norris Dam

Norris is located on the Northwestern edge of Anderson County bordered by the Clinch River, the beautiful Norris Lake and Norris State Park. Between the lake and the river stands the heartbeat of Norris -- the world famous Norris Dam.

To find the history of the community you are forced to go back to the history of the dam and from that moment all of the pieces begin to come together to tell the story that only Norris itself could write.

In the early 1930s the U.S. was in dire straits and suffering through the great depression. In a brilliant plan to recover and create jobs for U.S. government employees, Franklin Roosevelt began national parks and dams all over the country.

Roosevelt turned to congress to create "a corporation with the power of government while possessing the flexibility and initiative of a private business." In May 1933 Roosevelt signed "The TVA Act." Shortly after, TVA was formed and they masterminded what we now know as Norris Dam.

The construction of the dam would begin in 1933 in Anderson County to control flooding that was plaguing the entire Tennessee Valley. In an effort to create a community and home for the workers and their families, Norris Tennessee was born. The dam, the lake, the park, and the community took the name of Nebraska Senator George Norris who was an active supporter of TVA and personal friend of Franklin Roosevelt.

With the last bit of energy they could muster the workers came, they settled-in and made Norris TN their proud home.

Over the years I had heard a lot of friends mentioning Norris Lake (a popular fishing and boating attraction for the locals), but I had never really had the opportunity to visit. I knew that I was missing something more but was never quite sure what it was. Outside of Norris it's known as a "lake town." Occasionally you'd hear about the dam, but no one ever really talked about the town itself. What a shame. If only Norris speaks about and preserves their history then the world is being denied.

After reading an article in The Norris Bulletin and accidently catching a glimpse of what I was missing, I decided to get busy to make this city better known. On my first trip to Norris I simply got off I75 at the Norris/Clinton exit and followed the signs. That led me through well kept, beautiful neighborhoods that had a charm all their own. The streets were lined in trees and the beautiful houses had stone fireplaces, front porches and big yards. I felt like I was going back in time to some easier, more proud way of life.

Eventually I wound up at the town square which is just not easy to explain. Things suddenly opened up with parks and greenery while providing all the business, play and education necessities, but there was no sign of big business. Nothing seemed out of place or tacky, but at the time I couldn't quite put my finger on its mystery.

museum of appalachia
Museum of Appalachia
museum of appalachia
Farm animals at the museum

Eventually, I decided to drive on to Norris Lake and, of course, Norris Dam. On the way back to I-75 I spent some time at The Museum of Appalachia, but I was far from finished.

What I gathered that day was not nearly enough. I contacted my friend Eric Paquette, Publisher of The Norris Bulletin and we arranged to meet at the town square a few days later.

Eric proved that I had barely scratched the surface. We sat in a gazebo in the town square while he pointed out the history and significance of all the buildings surrounding us.

While the square is the hub and center of town it remains virtually unchanged with an old-time gas station, a grocery store, community library, the Norris Museum, post office, school and everything Norris needs to be self-sufficient.

We got in the car and Eric took me to more landmarks all the while teaching me the significance of each and answering every question that I could think to ask. Norris is a planned community developed by the TVA staff. Eric gives a lot of credit to one of the original architects, Bob Coe, who had a vision of a small town that would remain forever small and forever a part of the land. Today, the plan is well preserved and maintained: Norris is built with little to no disturbance of the natural forest and landscape. Houses and buildings were literally built around trees. Nothing was leveled or removed and the roads follow the natural contour of the land.

rice grist mill
Rice Grist Mill
rice grist mill
Rice Grist Mill interior

We visited the Rice Grist Mill, originally constructed in 1798 (long before the dam and the community) and used by 4 generations of the Rice family. The mill is a story within itself, but the fact that it still stands today is a testament to the area.

norris bulletin
Eric Paquette,
The Norris Bulletin Publisher

Today, Norris is home to 1,500 proud residents, and I had the privilege of being introduced to a few of them. Some of these people have lived through the very worst of times and passed stories down to the children who passed them to their grandchildren. No one seems to be spoiled, yet no one seems to be wanting for anything. There's not many people left who lived through the great depression but the few still with us have most incredible stories. They saw this country go from less than nothing to pure hope and they won…. for us.

We visited the Betty Anne Jolly Norris Community Library and the Norris Museum where Joy Hayes proudly gave me a tour showing me pictures and artifacts to go along with all the stories.

Unique does not quite sum it up. This is the town where American pride was reborn. That same pride remains today in every smile, every handshake and every story. The magic of Norris is more than just the town's history: Today there's still some sort of innocent charm that's hard to define but you can hear it and feel it when they talk. You can see it every gesture. The same pride that got America back to work still exists today. People know each other here. They say hello and they smile. They share their stories and laughter. Parents don't have to watch or worry about their children every second. There's a trust and a lack of paranoia.

Norris is more than a community built around Roosevelt's recovery plan. It's a monument of what can be done. It will stand proudly, forever reminding us what happens when we stand together and believe in ourselves. These stories should be shared and remembered and felt. They should help to get us through our darkest hours and inspire every American.

Why wasn't I taught this in school? How did I go through my life not knowing what I know today? Why was this almost forgotten and lost?

Is Roosevelt the hero? Is TVA the hero or are the people of Norris heroes? The plan worked: TVA and the people of Norris came through and we began to recover from the Great American Depression. They're all heroes! They and their town will be cherished and celebrated!

norris middle school
Norris Middle School
rice grist mill
Creek in Norris
norris lake
Norris Lake
norris park
Norris Park
museum of appalachia
Barn at Museum of Appalachia
museum of appalachia
Chickens at Museum of Appalachia
Images by John Disque

Published September 7, 2011

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