The overlooks at Norris Dam offer a glorious view of the historic structure built by TVA in the 1930s. Next to the colossal creation of concrete, it can be easy to overlook a small Art Deco-style visitor center that was constructed with the dam to give tourists the history of the structure.
"Our visitor centers have not been refurbished in about 20 years and they were not the state of the art experience we want people to have," said Laura Smith, TVA visitor center manager. "We've come in and are totally redoing the inside so people can really experience the history. The notable thing about Norris Dam is it is the first TVA-built project. When TVA was formed, it inherited some other structures, but this was the first TVA construction project."
"I mean this [Norris Dam] is a real testament to engineering. Remember, they built this without computers," said Travis Brickey, TVA spokesperson.
This week technicians are installing new computers and touch-screens to give visitors a hands-on history lesson about Norris Dam.
"We have touch-screens where people can fire off a video by touching a button," said technician Doug Gaddis.
Gaddis presses the small control touch screen to start and stop a video full of archived film footage of the dam being constructed. The large high definition screens are surrounded by displays, vignettes, and models of historical artifacts. But Gaddis said the thing he enjoys most about the revamped visitor center is a large interactive tabletop map.
"The map is the centerpiece. The cool thing about the interactive map is this represents all the facilities of the TVA. You can check out anything TVA does. There is a pull-down menu if you want to go to Norris Dam, it allow us to zoom in and read a little bit of information specific to Norris Dam," said Gaddis. "We have spent the last two years doing these kinds of installations at Fontana Dam and now Norris Dam."
TVA retirees financed the refurbished visitor center and will also serve as volunteer staff at the facility. The visitor center at Norris Dam typically has about 1,000 visitors per month during its open seasons. TVA hopes a more tangible experience will open the flood gates for more people to learn about how Norris Dam changed the landscape for public power.
"It's such an important story because before the dam floods were devastating, wiping out communities and towns. This is something where people can come over, have a picnic, and stop at the visitor center to learn about our history. It's not just TVA history, it's our history here in East Tennessee," said Brickey.
The revamped Norris Dam Visitor Center opens on May 6 and remains open through the end of November.