Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Observations from 1934

The Tennessee Valley Authority conducted an agricultural and industrial survey of Union County, Georgia in 1934. Pursuant to the building of dams and electric power plants, surveys were a precursory means of listing natural resources, the population, the economy and the possible outcomes of providing electricity for a given area.

The Tennessee Valley Authority Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 18, 1933. It was part of his "New Deal" plan to lift the nation out of the Great Depression. He had requested Congress to "create a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed with the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise."

The president needed innovative ways to lead the nation out of economic chaos. History has shown that TVA was one of his most innovative ideas. Although private power companies opposed TVA because, when dams were built and power generated, the new corporation could offer electricity at a much cheaper rate than private providers. David E. Lilienthal, Director of the Board of TVA, and sometimes called the "Father of Public Power" had the aim of making electricity affordable for everyone.

It is interesting to note some of the items in survey made for TVA in Union County in 1934. The report, quoting the 1930 census records for population of the county listed 6, 340. Blairsville, the county seat, had 409 residents. Of the total population, 47 were "colored." There were 2,500 children in the county of school age, but only 1,795 were enrolled in the 37 schools, making a percentage of 28.2 percent of the school age population not attending school. Mr. W. L. Benson who wrote up survey results stated that consolidation of the schools was impractical until better roads were built. Bus transportation was provided to only one school- Blairsville High School, with an enrollment of 304. There was one other consolidated school in the county, Town Creek in Choestoe, with 71 enrolled.

Mr. W. R. Woolrich who wrote the industrial part of the survey noted that the tax rate in Union County compared to most of the other counties in the TVA area in Georgia was "exceedingly high." The millage rate totaled 30, with 4 mills for state, 21 for county, and 5 for schools. "Well informed citizens" told the surveyors that the real and personal property of the county was assessed at 30 percent of its real value.

As for "industrial establishments," the only one in the county was a barrel stave mill employing "not more than ten men," and making the staves for barrels for alcoholic beverages from white oak timber bought from local land owners and farmers at $10 a cord. The barrels were not made in the county, but the staves, when treated and bundled, were taken to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot at Blue Ridge, 25 miles west of the barrel stave industry. The evaluator saw climate, water power, processing water, minerals and timber as assets to increase the industrial output.

The surveyors saw timber as one of the greatest resources of the county, with large quantities of oak, spruce, white and short-leaf pine, and beech. Chestnut trees had died or were dying, but the "excellent chestnut wood" should be gathered and shipped to tanning factories, or a tanning industry should be established in Union County.

The farms yielded fifteen bushels of corn per acre, and sorghum syrup was a money crop commodity. Fresh vegetables, "the best grown anywhere for flavor and hardiness" were shipped to cities like Gainesville and Atlanta by truck.

As to water supply, the clear freestone water from the Notla, Toccoa and Hiawassee Rivers and their tributaries could furnish water for many dye works, bleacheries and industrial purposes.

When TVA really became active, it was the water power that was used to "make electricity available for everyone," as the motto indicated. Nottely Dam (it seems TVA changed the spelling of Notla River to Nottely) was started in 1941 and finished in 1942. At first, the TVA dams to generate electric power were focused on the war effort, but after World War II, TVA was able to fulfill the aim of supplying every home and business with electricity. Building of Nottely Dam provided work for many construction workers. The pay scale indicated that skilled laborers were paid from $1.125 to $1.75 per hour; unskilled laborers received $.575 per hour; semiskilled from $.65 to $1.00 per hour, and an apprentice from $.65 to $1.46 per hour.

When Nottely was finished and operable, several Union County workers moved on to the Fontana Dam site near Robbinsville, N.C. A town sprang up at Fontana, with fabricated housing and dorms for workers. In 1943, over 5,000 workers were employed on the Fontana Dam Project, with an aim to supply more power to Alcoa Aluminum Company, highly involved in the war effort. Signs at Fontana reminded workers: "Work or fight!" Fontana was finished in November, 1944, and by January, 1945, was generating 228,000 kilowatts of power.

The TVA Act of 1933, the preparations for war, and World War II all combined to lift the economic cloud of the Great Depression. "The New Deal" with all of its ramifications had helped to turn America from rags to riches in a little more than a decade. The agricultural and industrial survey of Union County in 1934 no doubt aided leaders in the county to evaluate what citizens could do to move forward.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 10, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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