Happy Birthday Tennessee Valley Authority - 85 Years of Service to the People of the Valley

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On May 18, 2018, the TVA will be celebrating 85 years of service to the people of the Tennessee River Valley. One of the multiple “alphabet” agencies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the TVA has been a critical partner in shaping the economic and community opportunities for businesses and people in the Valley.

Tenessee River Valley Mapguide

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Tennessee Valley Authority Act to Congress urging the governing body "to extend planning to a wider field, in this instance comprehending in one great project many states directly concerned with the basin of one of our greatest rivers."

The slow-moving barge creates subtle ripples in the glass-like surface of the Tennessee River as it makes its way toward Wilson Dam. The gentle wake gives rise to rolling waves which reach the bank greeting fishermen enjoying the late spring afternoon. It’s a common scene in the Tennessee River Valley today made possible by a colossal undertaking first envisioned more than eight decades ago.

It’s difficult to imagine life along the Tennessee River in the early 1900’s when its waters were untamed and wreaked havoc on the struggling towns along its banks. The river’s unnavigable waters combined with frequent flooding not only hindered quality of life, it crippled economic growth in the region.

The Tennessee River watershed covers over 41,000 square miles encompassing 125 counties in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. Although daily struggles with the river had become a way of life for people along its banks, and in the midst of the Great Depression, there was hope on the horizon. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Tennessee Valley Authority Act to Congress urging the governing body "to extend planning to a wider field, in this instance comprehending in one great project many states directly concerned with the basin of one of our greatest rivers."

In Roosevelt charged TVA “with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee River drainage basin and its adjoining territory for the general social and economic welfare of the Nation.” The Tennessee Valley Authority Act, as supported by President Roosevelt and Senator George Norris, was the first step in utilizing the natural power of the Tennessee River system and ultimately transforming an entire region and its people.

In 1935, President Roosevelt wrote, "Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men." By 1936, a specific plan was in place outlining tactics by TVA to build dams and transform the poverty-stricken, often-flooded Tennessee River valley into a modern, electrified and developed region.

When the act passed, TVA acquired Wilson Dam in North Alabama, which predates the act having been completed in 1925, and work began almost immediately on Norris Dam in East Tennessee. Wheels were in motion for nine more dams — Wheeler, Pickwick, Guntersville, Chickamauga, Hiwassee, Watts Bar, Fort Loudoun, Fontana and Kentucky — which would serve as stabilizing forces across the entire region. Over the next 85 years, TVA would play an essential role in continuing to provide a safe, healthy, and economically viable region for both people who call it home and for 65.5 million annual visitors who come to experience the vibrant river cities, 49 lakes, hundreds of waterfalls, vineyards, large tracts of recreational lands and inviting rural communities.

The Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council serves as the steering committee and editorial board for the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, online travel guide and National Geographic Geotourism Destination. The Council is comprised of volunteers from a seven state region.

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