Constructed in 1933 by the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide housing for the construction workers building Norris Dam, the agency's first hydroelectric project, the town of Norris is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The responsibility of planning the city fell to the TVA's Division of Land Planning and Housing, which employed Tracy Auger and Earle Draper, two of the nation's most distinguished planners. However, Arthur E. Morgan, Chairman of the TVA Board, had his own plans for Norris. He insisted that the architecture resemble the vernacular architecture of the region, and he went so far as to make TVA architects inspect and measure existing houses in the region. One result was the traditional dogtrot house being one of twelve basic housing types found in Norris. Different external materials such as native stones, bricks, and shingles varied the houses. Each home was wired for electric heat, and they all had chimneys, fireplaces, and porches with screens.

Another important point in the planning and development of Norris was that the homes were to fit into the environment. The natural materials helped the houses blend in, but so did the placement of the structures. Most were placed along the natural contours of the land and a primary consideration was to take advantage of good sites without felling trees. In fact, one structure, the hillside house, was constructed specifically for use on steep slopes.

Besides its ties to the TVA, Norris is significant in the field of planning because it was the first self-contained town in the United States to utilize the greenbelt principles advocated by Ebenezer Howard. The planners of Norris created a greenbelt, or a belt of rural land, around the town as a way to preserve the character of Norris.

There were other aspects of Norris besides planning that were quite experimental. For example, the TVA established demonstration dairy and poultry farms and a ceramics lab to test local clays. The Norris Creamery, the first private business under lease, was actually the first all-electric milk-producing plant in the world, and Norris was the first town in Tennessee to have a complete system of dial telephones. The Norris School was also quite progressive in teaching through activities instead of traditional rote learning.

The operation of the town required continuing financial support, and Congress periodically suggested that the TVA divest itself of the town. However, with the outbreak of World War II, Norris housing was needed for workers at the nearby Oak Ridge project. With the end of the war, Congress finally demanded that Norris either be self-sustaining or be disposed of. On June 15, 1948, the town was sold at public auction for $2.1 million to Henry D. Epstein, who headed a group of Philadelphia investors. They sold off all the existing houses and then in 1953 sold their remaining real estate holding to the Norris Corporation, a local corporation formed by Norris residents.

Today little has changed in Norris. The greenbelt protects the town from encroachment; the city business district still consists of the post office, a drug store, and a grocery; and the TVA's Resource Management Offices remain a vital part of the community. In today's atmosphere of generic suburbs and strip malls, Norris illustrates the purpose, the necessity, and the success of planned communities in the United States.

Suggested Reading

Walter L. Creese, TVAs Public Planning: The Vision, The Reality (1990); Carroll Van West, The New Deal Landscape of Tennessee (2001)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Norris
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018