RESERVOIR DRAW DOWN REVEALS SELF HOMESITE
The recent drawdown of Chilhowee Lake in rural Blount County, Tennessee revealed many old home sites along the Little Tennessee River. One of those home sites was that of Roley and Vietta Self. The Self home site is located near Tabcat Creek a few miles above Chilhowee Dam, along Hwy. 129 (Calderwood Hwy.). The reservoir was drained to repair the dam. The dam is located between river mile 33 and 34 on the Little T. The drawdown began September 2. The dam is located in Blount and Monroe Counties. The dam supplies electric power to the aluminum smelting and rolling mill at Aluminum Company of America’s (ALCOA) Tennessee operations. The Chilhowee reservoir covers approximately 1734 acres when full.
My wife, Svitlana, our daughter, Lydia and I drove up to look at the lake this past Saturday. It was exciting to see the hundreds of acres of dry land that had been under water for the past 50 years. I enjoyed walking along the bank of the Little Tennessee River, where no one had walked since the reservoir was impounded in 1957.
Many others were walking the lakebed too, in search of artifacts. I saw one little girl and her grandfather picking up fragments of dishes, pottery and such. A few people were finding rusty horseshoes. One man found what appeared to be a small mattock. Rusty nails were lying everywhere, all signs that someone had once lived there. I found a 1910 Liberty head dime in the sand and wondered who had last held the coin. We had to choose our path carefully because there was mud everywhere. I came away from the walk along the riverbed a little sad.
I thought about Roley and Vietta Self and the others who had given up their river view farms in the name of progress. Only the concrete well pump house is still standing where the Self’s lived. There are portions of the fence posts still standing in a row across the old roadbed, indicating where a fence once divided a field. I thought about how the lush, green fields must have looked before the flood came. There would have been fields of corn, tobacco and grain, the yield of rich, fertile soil. The most desirable property around was covered by water. This place is where children who are now grandparents spent many carefree days. I can imagine a man walking behind a mule, holding a plow. I imagine cattle grazing in another field. All are now forever gone. Even the soil is now gone. All that remains are the rocks and some sand.
It was nice to see this place. It does not look now like it once did, but I can imagine how beautiful it must have been. An opportunity like this will probably never be afforded again in my lifetime. To walk where water 35 feet deep usually stands. It is not everyday thousands of acres of lake water are drained to repair a weak place in a dam. It will always be a special place, for it is where kinfolks once lived and where many happy memories were made. This past Saturday, I made some of my own memories there too.
Roley and Vietta Self are buried at the Chilhowee Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in the Happy Valley Community. This is about 6 miles from where they once lived along the Little Tennessee River at Tabcat Creek.