Conditions in Norris Basin
1 of 3

The valleys above the proposed site for Norris Dam had been settled for two hundred years, and the land showed the marks of generations of over-use. In the past some young men and women would move from the area to other farms or to the new cities of the industrial Midwest. But when hard times hit the United States during the Great Depression, many of those young people returned home to the security and the familiar surroundings of their mountain homes. Between 1930 and 1935 the area saw an increase in population, which made living off the land even harder than it had been before.

Farmers in the area raised corn for livestock and other crops for personal use. Tobacco was raised as a "cash crop"--something you could take and sell to buy the things you couldn't make, grow or trade for. Farming primarily for one's own personal use is called "subsistance farming," and while the idea of living off the land seems attractive to many of us today, it was a way of life that afforded few luxuries to the people of the Norris Basin.

The 3500 families in the area to be flooded by the Norris Dam included property owners and tenant farmers (families who grow cash crops on other people's lands so they could have a place to live). Conditions in the valley were difficult for both groups. Even during the best of times there was not enough money raised by local taxes to support adequate schools, public health services, hospitals, and road construction. Data collected on 2,841 families in the Norris Basin--including 1,864 property owners and 977 tenants--revealed that:

  • 94 percent of property owners and 98 percent of tenants did not have electricity.
  • 30 percent of property owners and 41 percent of tenants had no toilet facilities whatsoever (including outhouses).
  • 65 percent of property owners and 78 percent of tenants had to travel at least 300 yards to get their household water.
  • 8 percent of property owners and 3 percent of tenants owned radios (usually battery operated).
  • 39 percent of property owners and 23 percent of tenants had phonographs (including record players that were operated with a hand crank).
  • 50 percent of property owners and 25 percent of tenants read newspapers.
  • 26 percent of property owners and 16 percent of tenants owned automobiles.
  • 7 percent of property owners and 4 percent of tenants owned trucks.