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Lake mostly covered rural areas

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When Duke Energy dammed the Catawba River and began the slow and steady process of filling Lake Norman in the early 1960s, much of what slipped underwater was open, rural space.

Davidson College Archivist Jan Blodgett said while it’s not terribly romantic or mysterious, much of what’s at the bottom of the lake is farmland.

“In 1963, this area was incredibly rural, with very few highways and very few towns,” she said.

“People think of I-77 and the exits and all the stuff off it, but there just weren’t many people out there (then),” she said of northern Mecklenburg County.

Blodgett is widely considered an expert in lake lore and facts, as she heads the project “Under Lake Norman,” the ongoing crowd-sourcing project at Davidson College that collects photos and history from area residents and families who have first-hand knowledge on the subject.

A major part of the information-gathering includes the online interactive map that shows where former structures and landmarks were located.

Blodgett said while the project has been underway for less than a year, she’s heard some great tales along the way. For instance, the Army Corps of Engineers performed “war maneuvers” by blowing up several bridges that needed to be torn down. “Beatties Ford Bridge, that was demolished, it went up with a satisfying bang,” she said.According to information gathered by the project, the bridge carried the pre-Lake Norman route of N.C. 73 across the Catawba River.

But other structures were simply covered by the lake. The old N.C. 150 bridgebetween Mooresville and Sherrills Ford is still standing under roughly 20 feet of water, with the new structure being built 33 feet higher slightly north of the old one, she said. The water also covered nearly 27 miles of existing roadways, Blodgett said.

While the vast majority of structures were demolished and the debris carried out, there are some exceptions, Blodgett said.

East Monbo mill was a two-story cotton mill west of Troutman on what’s now the northern end of the lake that was taken down to the foundation, Blodgett said. “But some of the equipment was too big to move, and the original dam is still there,” she said.

Across the Catawba River to the west of East Monbo were the Long Island mill and village, which also were covered by water during Lake Norman’s formation. Blodgett said a Facebook page has since been created so that family members of those who lived there can share photos and give an idea “of what life was like back then.”

Blodgett said the mills that went underwater often offered to move workers’ company-owned homes, though it seems that only dozens, not hundreds, of homes were moved to different locations. The rest were torn down and the debris cleared away, she said.

But houses weren’t the only things moved as the water was rising. “In 1958, Duke Power started clearing the land … and made great efforts to locate people’s families and move graves,” Blodgett said. At least eight cemeteries were relocated, and Duke has a 44-page booklet on all the graves they moved, she said.

Though the crowd-sourcing project is still in its very early stages, Blodgett said, eventually they hope to expand the content to include more information than just what’s underwater. She said the project will transition into, “What’s around the lake” and consider economic and environmental impacts, which she said will be a great way to get elementary-age through college-level students involved, as well as how the lake has changed the culture.

“We want to create a container for all kinds of information about the lake, so in 50 years, when we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary, we’ll know a whole lot more.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter @htrenda
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