Norris Dam State Park
TVA’s first hydroelectric project was to construct a dam on the Clinch River, in Anderson County north of Knoxville. Construction of the 1,860-foot-long, 265-foot-tall dam started in 1933 and was completed in 1936. It was named for Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, who conceived of and championed the idea of a public power company in the Tennessee Valley.
Hungarian-born architect Roland Wank designed Norris Dam. Wank cared not only about the function of the dam, but its appearance as well. He considered the placement of overlooks on either side of the dam, and designed a visitors center. The dam was proportional; carefully placed window openings and the placement of the formwork boards created texture and pattern.
Today, Norris Dam is part of Norris Dam State Park (125 Village Green Cir., Lake City, 865/426-7461 or 800/543-9335). Visitors may see the dam from overlooks on both sides of the lake; U.S. Highway 441—the main thoroughfare in the park—tracks along the top of the dam. It is an impressive sight. The visitors center on the east side of the dam has public restrooms and displays about construction of the dam.
Norris Dam is also home to the Lenoir Museum (865/494-9688, Wed.–Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., free), named for Will G. Lenoir, a local resident who amassed a remarkable collection of mountain artifacts during his lifetime. Lenoir traveled the backroads of East Tennessee to purchase housewares, old farm implements, mementos, and other remnants of everyday life of the early 20th century. When Lenoir died, he donated his collection to the State of Tennessee, and eventually the Lenoir museum was built at Norris Dam State Park.
In addition to Lenoir’s collection, the museum houses displays about Native Americans and the construction of Norris Dam.
Next to the Lenoir Museum are two authentic structures that were moved to the park during construction of TVA dams and lakes. The Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn once sat on the Holston River where the David A. Green Bridge now spans Cherokee Lake on Highway 25 East. Before the lake flooded the farm site, the barn was carefully dismantled and put in storage, where it was kept for 34 years until 1978 when it was reconstructed at Norris Dam.
Next to the threshing barn is the 18th Century Rice Gristmill, originally constructed in 1798 by James Rice along Lost Creek in Union County. Four generations of the Rice family operated the mill, from 1798 until 1935 when TVA bought the land on which it sat in preparation for flooding of Norris Lake. The Civilian Conservation Corps labeled all the components of the mill, disassembled it, and reassembled it on its present land. During the summer, park staff still operate the mill and have gift items for sale.
Despite its rich history, most people come to Norris Dam State Park to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Boating and fishing are popular on the Clinch River and on Norris Lake. There is one licensed commercial marina (865/494-8138) on the lake. There are 15 miles of hiking trails and another 15 miles of multiuse dirt and gravel paths ideal for biking. An Olympic-sized swimming pool is open during the summer daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Cabins and Camping
Norris has 19 rustic cabins ($45–55) and 10 three-bedroom deluxe cabins ($60–95). All cabins are located in a wooded setting, and have kitchens, bathrooms, fireplaces, linens, and outdoor picnic tables and grills. The Norris campground has 75 sites ($20), with electrical and water hook-ups.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition