Lake Norman Magazine

January 30, 2013

Under Lake Norman

Davidson College project unearths lake’s hidden treasures

Lake Norman Magazine isn’t the only one celebrating an anniversary. The body of water the magazine was named after turns 50 this year. To commemorate the occasion, Davidson College launched Under Lake Norman, an ongoing project to collect stories, photos and other information about what lies beneath the surface of the lake. When Duke Energy created the lake in 1963, the power company flooded thousands of acres, putting plantations, bridges, mills and home sites underwater. Below are some of Under Lake Norman’s more notable discoveries.

Cotton Mills The East Monbo and Long Island cotton mills, both owned by Duke Power, were shut down a few years prior to the flooding and formation of Lake Norman. At the time, each mill employed about 120 people, most of who lived in nearby mill villages. Workers were offered their homes free of charge if they could pay to move the home outside of the flood area. The houses that were not moved were demolished. While most of the machinery from the two mills was removed prior to flooding, some of the bigger machines, which were bolted to the floor, remained, and now reside underwater.

Elm Wood Estate When John D. Graham, the son of Revolutionary War hero Gen. Joseph Graham, built the Georgian-style plantation house known as Elm Wood in the 1820s in Catawba Springs, it was one of the grandest in the area. Nearly a century later, Graham’s descendant, Joe Graham, sold the house to Duke Power during the Great Depression. In order to save the plantation house from being flooded, Duke Power donated the house in 1959 to Charles and Winifred Babcock of Winston-Salem, who planned to dismantle the home and move it to their farm. Over several months the Babcocks carted much of the home’s interior to their barn for storage. But in 1961 there was a fire in the barn, and the home’s interior was destroyed. The Babcocks abandoned the project and what remained of the plantation house now rests below the surface of Lake Norman.

Family Cemeteries Duke Power moved multiple family cemeteries to make way for Lake Norman. In some cases, after obtaining permission from family descendants, only the headstones were moved while the remains were not disturbed. To inform the public about what it was doing, Duke Power published a 46-page doucment that indicates seven family cemeteries were moved, as well as a single grave that belonged to John Abernathy who, according to the headstone, died in 1816 at the age of 63. On November 23, 1958, an unknown person removed the gravestone from the gravesite. A year later a descendant of Abernathy consented to allow Duke Power to relocate Abernathy’s remains to the Hills Chapel Cemetery in Stanley. A number of years later, the original gravestone turned up in the possession of an Abernathy descendant. Ultimatley, the original gravestone was placed at the Unity Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Catawba Springs, giving John Abernathy two separate gravesites and two headstones.

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