In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “It’s Easier to Pick a Tourist Than It Is a Bale of Cotton”The Rise of Recreation on the Great Lakes of the South
  • Ian Draves (bio)

Click for larger view
View full resolution

Roosevelt’s emphasis on three uses—flood control, navigation, and hydroelectricity—of the Tennessee River and its tributaries is not surprising. But he also saw fit to mention another use of the changing river valley environment: recreation. “This chain of man-made inland seas,” Roosevelt proclaimed, referring to the expanding network of TVA reservoirs, “may well be named ‘The Great Lakes of the South.’ ” Local fishing guide Earl Keayhey (left) and Miller Adams of Chicago (right) at Watts Bar Resort Village, Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee, April 1953, Image ID 16996, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection, Fishing series, courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

[End Page 87]

In May 1933, the United States government enacted legislation establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority (tva). The tva Act charged the new federal agency with multiple responsibilities throughout the Tennessee River watershed, a region spread across Tennessee, western North Carolina, northern Georgia and Alabama, southern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and a small part of northeastern Mississippi. Within several decades, the tva’s construction of dams in pursuit of its goals transformed a millennia-old network of free-flowing rivers into a chain of slow-moving reservoirs creating a new landscape or, more properly, a new lakescape.

This transformation of rivers into reservoirs not only physically altered the Valley, it also displaced established uses of the natural environment. The damming of the region’s rivers drowned the homesteads, farm fields, timberlands, hunting grounds, and fish traps that represented the primary ways generations of residents interacted with nature. But the creation of reservoirs also opened up other uses of the new lakescape. Boating, waterskiing, sport-fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and other outdoor leisure activities—in a word, recreation—increasingly became principal ways individuals experienced the region’s reservoirs. The rising importance of recreation can be seen in the ways tva officials, local leaders, and residents described the value of these new lakes. By the 1950s, recreation became a defining aspect of the relationship between people and nature in the Tennessee River Valley.

On September 2, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt arrived at Chickamauga Dam northeast of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to dedicate the newest structure in the tva’s growing system of multipurpose impoundments. In his dedication speech, Roosevelt dutifully noted all of the main purposes for creating the tva seven years before. He spoke about the “devastating floods that had existed for many generations” in the region, floods that “washed away houses and roads and factories, floods that took great tolls of human lives, floods that threatened . . . communities on [the] river, on the Ohio River and even down in the lower reaches of the Mississippi River.”1 Roosevelt also observed that TVA dams had overcome long-standing impediments to commercial navigation, such as shallow water, seasonal river flows, narrow channels, and treacherous shoals. And he highlighted the benefits flowing to the residents and industries of the Tennessee Valley from a new, low-cost source of energy: hydroelectricity. Over the next several years this use of the region’s rivers came to overshadow the other two, particularly as demands for electric power increased.

Roosevelt’s emphasis on these three uses—flood control, navigation, and hydroelectricity—of the Tennessee River and its tributaries is not surprising; the tva Act explicitly sanctioned them. But he also saw fit to mention another use of the changing river valley environment: recreation. “This chain of man-made [End Page 88] inland seas,” Roosevelt proclaimed, referring to the expanding network of tva reservoirs, “may well be named ‘The Great Lakes of the South.’” And, looking out on the waters of the newest great lake, he saw “new opportunities for recreation” represented in a flotilla of pleasure boats that had arrived to view the dedication ceremony.2


Click for larger view
View full resolution

Boating, waterskiing, sport-fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and other outdoor leisure activities—in a word, recreation—increasingly became principal ways individuals experienced the region’s reservoirs. By the 1950s, recreation became a defining aspect of the relationship between...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 87-104
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-16
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.