The Planned Community of Norris, Tennessee
The Town of Norris was originally intended to be a showcase for rural electrification, decentralized industry, and town planning. In this way it was similar to other planned communities of the New Deal. Many thought that the town would be an ideal home for the displaced rural people of the Norris Basin. But the workers who came to build the Norris Dam also needed homes. So the town originally served as temporary housing for construction workers and their families, while the inhabitants of the soon-to-be-flooded valleys found other places to live, often in areas just as impoverished as their original homes.
The vision of Norris as a model American community was flawed from the beginning. TVA officials excluded black families from the town. They claimed that this was done to conform to the customs and traditions of the area, but angry black leaders pointed out that poor whites and blacks had lived and worked together side by side in the mountains and valleys of the basin long before TVA came on the scene. During the 1930s the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) conducted three investigations of TVA for racial discrimination in the hiring, housing and training of blacks. (in 1934, 1935 and 1938)
Arthur Morgan, who was especially interested in community planning, imagined an independent, self-sustaining community of citizens involved in small cooperative industries. In the early days of Norris some cooperative businesses were started up--canneries, poultry raising, and creameries. Norris' public school was the center of community activity. Classes were offered for children and adults alike, for town people and for the farmers in the surrounding communities.
Despite Morgan's good intentions, living in Norris was often like living in a company town. TVA operated practically everything in Norris, including the town's auto repair shop and cafeteria. Even the town's gasoline station was owned and operated by TVA.
After the dam was completed, the workers left Norris. Professionals who worked for TVA or in Knoxville saw the town as an attractive alternative to city living, and Norris gradually turned into a white collar suburb of Knoxville. As the population became more affluent--traveling to jobs located outside of Norris--the cooperative groups and many of the community-sponsored activities disappeared. In June 1948 the federal government sold the town to a private corporation, which resold the individual lots to the residents.