Theses Master's

“People of a Sentimental Nature”: The Tennessee Valley Authority, Progress, and Curation of Heritage in the Norris Basin, 1933-1940

Hagan, Madeline

Between 1933 and 1940, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reconfigured the Norris Basin in eastern Tennessee. One of many New Deal administrations, the TVA, armed with federal monies, eminent domain, and the Depression-era working class, entered the Tennessee Valley with a nebulous task: improve the physical, economic, and social environment for the people of the Tennessee Valley. Through the construction of the Norris Dam, a hydroelectric project, the TVA displaced thousands of people, relocated hundreds of cemeteries, and deconstructed, demolished, and relocated the historic built environment.

The decisions made about the built environment–demolition, deconstruction, reconstruction, relocation, development, redevelopment–tell a complex story of endangered heritage, federal power, and, above all, loss. Heritage, in the New Deal schema, was only considered if it strengthened the patriotic New Deal call for nationalism, progress, and industrialization–heritage in the Tennessee Valley was not the right kind of heritage. The TVA, in the climate of modernization and industrialization, viewed the heritage of the Norris Basin as inherently contradictory to the New Appalachia they were developing.

The TVA, through its interactions with the historic fabric, made preservation decisions that excluded Basin residents in the name of those residents’ salvation. By examining several sub-projects associated with the construction of the dam–the process of family removal, grave relocation, “emergency” archeology, the TVA’s development of the Town of Norris, Big Ridge and Norris Parks, and the preservation of the Rice Grist Mill–this thesis ultimately argues that the Tennessee Valley Authority, by reconfiguring the Norris Basin, operated as a curator of heritage.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Clark, Carol A.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024