Since 1960 the descendants of John and Mossie (Heatherly) Wright have gathered near the East Tennessee towns of Clinton and Norris the third Sunday of every July. While my family from Central Ohio didn’t attend every year, we did make the trek often. After I became a parent, I took my own children to the family reunion. It was during one of these trips that I discovered the Lenoir Museum at Norris Dam State Park.
Located just downriver from Norris Dam on the east side of the park, the Lenoir Museum is named after benefactor Will G. & Helen H. Lenoir who donated their collection to the State of Tennessee. The collection is representative of the rural community that surrounds the state park as well as representing the construction of Norris Dam itself.
There are several tableaus throughout the Lenoir Museum that give visitors a view of life in the East Tennessee hills during the first half of the 20th Century. A farm kitchen and a country store are recreated with all of the small, trivial things we might take for granted today yet were necessities in a simpler time. Farm tools, hunting and trapping equipment and a washing machine find their place among old photos and company scrip (money) that were in use during the construction of the dam.
I often found myself lost in the collection of books and photos describing the actual construction of Norris Dam and the communities that were ordered moved and flooded to create Norris Lake. I have a copy of the deed in which my great-grandparents John and Mossie Wright sold their 75 acre farm near the town of Loyston to the federal government for $3,269 in 1934. One of my personal favorite discoveries at the Lenoir Museum was a photo of the one-room school near Loyston including several of my great-uncles.
Every Sunday afternoon year-round, bluegrass musicians gather at the Lenoir Museum for a jam session from 2:00 pm until the 5:00 pm closing time. I’ve had the pleasure of “sitting in” and singing with these great people.
The Lenoir Museum Cultural Complex is also home to two historically significant structures.
The 18th Century Rice Grist Mill still has all of its working parts. Built in 1798, the wheel turns with the power of the stream. Sadly, they no longer make the stone-ground cornmeal that I used to buy.
The Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn was rescued from destruction during the construction of the Cherokee Dam. The 19th century barn was more than 100 years old when it was carefully disassembled and stored for more than 30 years until it was rebuilt following the opening of the Lenoir Museum in July, 1975.
The Lenoir Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is free, but there is a donation box available. Guided tours are available by appointment. From Interstate 75, take Exit 122 and head East on Highway 61 toward Norris. Turn left on Highway 441. The Lenoir Museum is on the right past the town of Norris but before Norris Dam at 2121 Norris Freeway. The telephone number is 865-494-9688.
Source: City of Norris