The Nottely River’s headwaters rise high in the mountains of southeastern Union County near the Union-Lumpkin County line. This largest river in Union County begins in the secluded regions of the mountains and makes its way northwestward over falling terrain to form rapids and eddies. It is not a large river at any point on its journey northwestward. It picks up beauty as it flows on its northerly course through the county. Nottely Falls are on the stream near Vogel State Park. At times some of the water gathers in placid pools. More regularly its course has small rapids rather than the type tourists seek for their whitewater rafting. The river’s waters were dammed up in 1941-1942 to form Nottely Lake.
As the overspill flows out from the Nottely Dam, the waters of the river flow some twenty more miles through north Georgia and into North Carolina to become a tributary of the Hiawassee River. Again, the river into which the Nottely flows, and the Tennessee Valley Authority dam and lake called Hiawassee, is a Cherokee derivative from the Cherokee word ayuhwasi meaning savannah or meadow. The Hiawassee River Dam was completed six years before the Nottely Dam. Begun in 1935, the Hiawassee Dam boasts the tallest overspill dam in the world at 307 feet tall and 1,376 feet wide.
Both the Nottley and Hiwassee Dams are part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s hydroelectric generating power system. They also have as aims floodwater control and recreation. Add to this system Lake Chatuge in Towns County and extending into North Carolina, with 128 miles of shoreline. These lakes make our section of the mountains a much-sought out area for boating, water skiing and other water recreation sports.
Returning to Union County’s Nottely River and Nottely Dam, we note that prior to the project’s launch in 1941, a total of 7,984 acres of land were purchased. Already two private companies, Southern States Power and Union Power owned land but had not developed it into an area for the lake or power production. Tennessee Valley Authority bought those holdings as well as private lands. A total of 91 families had to be relocated from their property, houses moved, or, in some cases, demolished. Roads had to be relocated to go by the properties on which the houses were moved. It was a topsy-turvy time when all the changes occurred.
Construction began on July 17, 1941, with engineering already done to determine the best location for the 184-feet high dam that runs for about 2,300 feet across the Nottely River. In a little over six months, an unprecedented time for such a massive construction project, the opening date for the dam was January 24, 1942, with fanfare, speeches and a celebration. The rush to complete the dam was so that the giant reservoir covering some 4,180 acres could fill during the rainy season of that winter.
World War II brought added demands for hydroelectric power to operate aluminum and other manufacturing sites for the war effort. It was fortunate that the series of dams were available, not only for flood control but for generating electricity. A plethora of jobs were also created by the origination of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933, helping to bring the area out of the Great Depression.
Now as we sit beside the banks of the Nottely River or go north of Blairsville to find the shores of Lake Nottely, we think back to the time when the Cherokee Indian Village of Nadhuli thrived prior to 1838 along the river near what became the Georgia/North Carolina border. White men had been settling on Indian lands prior to 1832 when Union County was formed.
One of my favorite poems of Union poet Byron Herbert Reece is entitled “I Know a Valley Green with Corn” (in A Song of Joy, 1952). In that poem he writes longingly of his being away and wishing to be back in Choestoe where corn grows green along the Nottely River. He could just as well have been writing of the dislocated Cherokee who grew maize in cleared patches alongside the Nadhuli. The first two stanzas read:
I know a valley green with cornBeloved Nottely in the hills of home. Flow on, sparkling mountain waters!
Where Nottely’s waters roil and run
From the deep hills where first at morn
It takes the color of the sun
And bears it burning through the shade
Of birch and willow till its tide
Pours like a pulse, and never stayed,
Dark where the Gulf’s edge reaches wide.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 8, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.