Last week, an afternoon thunderstorm knocked the power out at the house. I was working at the time, and I depend on an Internet connection in order to connect to a remote work computer. The outage was short—only an hour—but it’s obvious how electricity is a necessity nowadays, and how easy it is to take for granted something that we depend on daily. I did some reading on the history of electricity in our area and discovered that less than 100 years ago, east Tennessee had no electricity.
The lack of electricity changed with the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which is the nation’s largest public power provider. It was created as part of the New Deal in 1933 under President Franklin Roosevelt; it was one of the programs designed to bring the country out of the Great Depression, and aimed to address environmental, economic, and technological issues.
11/21/1934, Jersey City Journal; cartoon of President Roosevelt (source)
In the early 1900s, the Tennessee Valley was suffering: land was being farmed too hard and soil was eroding/depleting, crop yields were falling, farm incomes were shrinking, and 30% of the population was affected by malaria. Enter the TVA. Dams were built to generate energy from the region’s rivers, and with the introduction of electric lights, appliances, fertilizers, and new farming techniques, east Tennessee was modernized. Electricity made life easier and farms became more productive.
rural electrification: before and after (source)
However, the TVA and Norris Dam were not without controversy. Around 15,000 families were displaced from their land and homes in the Norris Lake area. Racial discrimination persisted; many African Americans living in the region were available for work, but were not hired by the TVA. Local power companies felt the federal government should not be involved in private development and escalated a lawsuit to the Supreme Court. Despite the controversies, TVA dams were completed, and 75 years later in Norris, we’re using even more gadgets dependent upon electricity via the power of nature.
TVA dams in red (source)
Learn more about our project at www.thenewnorrishouse.com.
The New Norris House is a design/build effort from the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design. Began in 2009, the home was designed and built by UT students in collaboration with Clayton Homes. The built project is now complete and the final phase of the project has begun. A team of 4 people (2 living in the home, and 2 graduate researchers) will rigorously document the experience via qualitative assessments and quantitative measurements, posting results to this blog.