Between the Rivers:
A Story of Loss and Sacrifice

The Part of the "Land Between the Lakes" Saga That TVA Will NOT Be Portraying at Their Welcome Center

"In Dec. 1967 TVA came to me to buy. I told them I have nothing for them. They told me if I wouldn't take the easy way it would go the hard way. I told them I had gotten nothing easy in my life and we'd just go the hard way.
The principles I fought for and my buddies died for such as freedom and the right for a man to make his own way and determine his own destiny are trampled upon and flaunted in my face every day by TVA in this LBL project. Just what is the use in living anyway if every thing you have believed in and been taught to admire is desecrated by my own government?"
--from complaint filed before Congress in 1968 by Mr. Homer Ray

What were the communities between the rivers REALLY like?

(This page has been prepared by those members of the Concept Zero Task Force who are from between the rivers.)

Table of Contents

Our Communities
Our Churches
Our Cemeteries
The Occupation and Relocation
The New Generation


Originally there were approximately 370,870.5 acres between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This area was known simply as "between the rivers." It was not uncommon for those Between the Rivers to have claim to their lands tracing back to the 1700's.

Between the Rivers was isolated from the surrounding society by the rivers. It is in this isolation that is to be found the beauty of BETWEEN THE RIVERS. It was an isolation which cradled its communities; not, as some have said, holding them in ignorance. Much the same way that we seek today to escape from the pressures of the world into the familiar surroundings of our homes, back then, for those of us who lived among the hardwoods and riverbottoms, we had only to cross the threshold of our society--the rivers--to feel that security.

The rivers protected us; fed us; and at times they threatened us; but as much as the land that lay between them, they contained us...

In the Lyon and Trigg county areas of Kentucky (that we are most familiar with) we had approximately 19 communities, 15 schools, 25 churches, 163 cemeteries, 16 post offices, 51 groceries, and 9,000 residents.

All this was taken from us for the very narrow purpose of providing a "demonstration" of how removing all commercial activity from within the LBL would stimulate economic development on the outside. The class action lawsuit filed by the residents between the rivers, claiming TVA did not have the right to use eminent domain against unwilling sellers just to create a recreation area, was defeated on this narrow premise. The judge in the sixth circuit court of appeals quoted from then TVA Chairman Aubrey Wagner's testimony before Congress in which he explained this demonstration. This demonstration alone gave TVA the right to use eminent domain to remove us from our ancestral homes.
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Our Communities

Our communities were tight knit; there was amazingly little social stratification among us. There was a tremendous sense of self-reliance based on neighbor helping neighbors, and the avoidance of outside support systems, which were seen as charity. In our communities when someone was sick and in need, everyone knew. The "sitting up with the sick" was common practice. This meant the community members helped with the work around the home place, sat with the patient at night to help with basic care, administer medication, help with cooking as well as laundry. "I'll help you because I know you'd help me; but I hope I never need you," was the common assumption.

In all of this we developed a strong sense of "belonging" to our communities, like the rivers that they lay between, they contained us...

A Partial List of Our Communities

Center Furnace
Pleasant Hill
Woodson Chapel
Brandon Chapel
Jenny Ridge
Twin Lakes
Pleasant Hope
Star Lime Works
Golden Pond
Ferguson Springs

All Gone, but for the people who remember, and our cemeteries...
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Our Churches

Our churches were the center of our communities. They stood in solid testimony to the peoples' trust and faith in GOD. They represented the social as well as the spiritual part of our lives. Our churches shared the legacy of our past and the hope for our future. The pealing of their bell was a sound revered by all who heard. The bell was rung for the call to worship, as well as a means to communicate special needs: such as a death in our community. When someone was ill in our community everyone was aware. They knew that one ring of the church bell meant they had died and gone to a better place, and two rings meant that it was time to dig our friend's grave. The men gathered their shovels and picks and went to the cemetery to dig their friend's grave and wait for Mr. Shelly Dunn to arrive. No longer do we hear the church bell toll for our friends, but these are sacred memories we hold in our hearts and share with our living friends from BETWEEN THE RIVERS...

A Partial List of Our Churches

Pleasant Hill Baptist
Golden Pond Baptist
Jenny Ridge Holliness
Oak Ridge Baptist
Pleasant Valley Baptist
Ferguson Springs Baptist
Hematite Methodist
Cumberland Baptist
Woodson Chapel Methodist
Sardis Methodist
Cross Roads Baptist
Bethleham Baptist
Carmack Baptist
Pisgah Baptist
Pleasant Hope Baptist
Union Hill Christian
Brandon Chapel Methodist
Paradise Christian Union
Mt. Pleasant Free Will Baptist
Ditney Hill Christian
Crockett Creek Baptist
Mt. Carmel Baptist
St. Stephens Catholic
Center Furnace Baptist
Salem Baptist
Star Lime Works Pentacostal

Our churches were bulldozed from the face of our land.

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Our Cemeteries

There were--and still are--some 200 cemeteries located beteen the rivers. Most, although certainly not all, were in a church yard. Others were to be found scattered throughout the hills and hollows on what used to be the backside of someone's place. Regardless of where they lay, the cemeteries were--and still are--something special. We were taught at an early age to respect the graves in them; a grave was sacred and never to be stepped on. But perhaps the example of the place the cemetery held in our society was to be found in its upkeep. The cemeteries were cared for by the people who lived in the nearest communities. One day each year was set aside as grave yard cleaning day. This was an exciting time, as neighbors gathered their families, lunches and tools to spend the day engaged in a labor of love. It was certainly a special day--a day that still lives in our memories of the land that lay between the rivers...

Despite what many visitors to the LBL are led to believe, the families from between the rivers still maintain their own cemeteries. We are fully responsible for all upkeep; including repairs of vandalism and "replacement" of stolen stones--many dating to the early 1800's and even earlier. Our cemeteries remain a center of gravity for us; a last link to our living heritage.

A Partial List of Our Cemeteries

Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of cemeteries of that name.
Acree Atwood Bailey (3) Bailey-Byrd
Barnes Barnett Barrow Bass
Belisle Bethlehem-River View Bethlehem-Downs Blossus
Bogard Bohanon Bonner Boswell (2)
Biswekk Boyd (2) Boyd Memorial Brandt
Brigham Britton Brokow Brown (2)
Bruton Buchanan (2) Buckner Bufford
Bullock Byrd Cambell (2) Cassity-Weaver-Savells
Cathey Catholic (2) Chambers Champion (2)
Cherry Chinese Coleman Collie
Colson (2) Compton (2) Cook Dennis
Dickerson Dilday Dill Dixon
Downs (2) Dunlap Ferguson Springs Ford
Fulks Fuqua Futrell (5) Futrell-Laura Furnace
Gardner (3) Gatlin Gilliam Grace
Gray (3) Griffin Hanes Hematite-Center Furnace
Henderson Chapel Hendon Heathcock Henson
Herndon (2) Hicks (4) Higgins (4) Hildreth (2)
Hilltop-Robertson Hopewell Church Houston Indian Springs
Ingram Jackson (2) Joyce Jenny Ridge
Jones Keel Kuhn Lady (2)
Lane (2) Largent Lee-Dodds Litchfield
Lofton Lone Pine Long Creek Lowery
Luton Malone Marberry Matheny
Matheny-Cumberland Matheny-Ferguson Mathes Mays
Miles Mitchell Mitchusson Morgan
Mount Pleasant Mountview Church Mount Zion Murphy
McClanahan McWaters Neeble Negro
Neville Creek Newby Newby Newton
Nickell Nunn Oakley O'Bryan
Outland Paradise Parker Pettit
Pennegar Pleasant Hill Ralls Reynolds
Rhoades (2) Roach (2) Ross (2) Ross-Turner
Rowlett Rushing Slave Rushing (3) Rushing Creek
Rutland St. Mary's (2) St. Stephens Sardis
Savells Salem Scarborough Schneider
Shaw (2) Sills Smith (2) Soden
Spiceland Stalls Stone (3) Sykes
Taylor Tharpe Travis Turkey Creek
Trinity Church Vickers Vinson (2) Vinson Slave
Vogel Wallace (2) Watson (2) Wenger
Whitford (2) Wilcox (2) Wilkerson Williams (2)
Wofford (2) Woodson Unknown Burials  
Each of the above names represents a heritage, a lineage, kept alive by our continued sense of place and community. Each item on that list is an anchor; a last remnant that they were unable to forcibly remove from us. All the rest was taken for the very narrowly and carefully defined purpose of removing the already existing commercial facilities and ensuring that no new ones would ever be introduced.

Each of the above names has a further significance in that TVA has systematically changed the names of our places, erasing all evidence that our culture ever existed; all evidence that such a thing was ever done. Our cemetery names have remained constant--a reflection of our communities between the rivers.

In recent years the incidence of vandalism in our cemeteries has increased. Graves have been opened, stones broken or stolen, wrought iron fences stolen. Our cemeteries remain our point of contact with our identity as being from between those rivers...

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The Occupation and Relocation

--A group of grandmothers protesting in front of the Lutz Motel in Twin Lakes in January of 1964. TVA had claimed the motel and established its land office, from which it would organize its "acquisitions." These were among the "willing sellers" that TVA "benefitted" by occupying their ancestral homes.

According to testimony of then Congressman Frank Stubblefield, before the House of Representatives, land owners between the rivers were offered "approximately one-half" the accessed tax rate for their land. TVA explained this, in an article in the Paducah Sun-Democrat, as necessary to prevent land speculation. Those that complained had their offered price cut in half. The resulting small number of appeals was used as evidence that the offered price was considered fair by the land owners.

Land owners were given a date and told that after that date their home would be bulldozed, burned, and buried, "whether you agreed to the offered price or not..." While the families still lived in their homes, TVA employees would come in and "carry off personal possessions," claiming they were now TVA property. (Quotes from Stubblefield's Congressional statement.) The bulldozers and harassing TVA agents are burned into the memory of all those from Between the Rivers.

TVA insisted that our heritage was of no significance; and certainly of no value. They could not understand why we resisted--they called it "dragging our feet." When we requested that our churches, which had served as the core of our communities for generations, be left so that we might return to worship in our ancestral communities--even if we could no longer live in them--our churches were bulldozed and burned. The Tennessee Valley Authority torched our churches, but there were no federal investigations into the attrocity.

When we sought assistance from the outside, we were ridiculed and told we were standing in the way of progress. By eliminating our homes, farms, and businesses the entire region would prosper. This was the motivation for TVA destroying our communities, occupying our land, referring to us as trash that needed to be removed, and trying to eliminate all evidence that we had ever lived among our beloved hills and forests.

Now TVA acts surprised when we object to their building stores, restaurants, and rental cabins, "because the LBL visitors would like such accomadations." They do not understand why it upsets us to watch as our ancestral places are farmed, because they now claim it is necessary for the benefit of the wildlife (we assume this also applies to the cattle grazing on land leased within LBL).

In short, they can not fathom why it angers us that they now say the motivation for doing all of this to us was invalid and they must now replace what we had. And they act surprized that we are still vigilent. We are more organized now than ever and we intend to protect what still belongs to us.

They may have never realized it. But it is a good thing for them we were not like they portrayed us when they occupied our land. It is a good thing for them now that we are not like they have continued to portray us for the last thirty years at their Welcome Center. We have remained above that.

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The New Generation of "Former Residents"

It has long been understood that being from between the rivers brought with it a certain sense of common identity tempered by a shared sense of loss. The area was large enough, and there were enough distinct communities, that not everyone from between the rivers knew each other. But even today the revelation that "I'm from between the rivers" will spontaneously turn a routine business transaction into an interaction more akin to a family exchange--calculating economic rationality is transcended. Mutual aid from neighbors comes into play once again.

It is not uncommon today to hear that phrase, "I'm from between the rivers", uttered by those who were born after the forced relocation. We are, in fact, witnessing a new generation of "former residents", who take pride in their heritage and share the understanding--if not the actual memories-- of what we were forced to give up; and why. Any sociologist will tell you that collective, or community, memory is not dependent on the experience of the individual, but the shared experiences of the community. The culture continues to the extent that this community memory lives in the new generations.

What follows is a poem written by Jonathan Oliver for his mother. Jonathan was born shortly after his family was forced from their land. This family was among the many that traces back to revolutionary war soldiers settling Between the Rivers.

The Place

It's fun to be on the place--the place where Grandpa lived,
And under that old oak tree is the fort my Mama built.
And I like to roam here and there and to fish down by the spring.
The path that leads there, well it's always been there--least
before Great-Grandaddy came.
And I walk it just the way he did and his dad before him.
It makes me feel like a man to be here with my kin;
It is all just a dream for me; it's something I will never see;
And that "big one" down by the spring can never be...
Here on the place where my family lived.
Why, I imagine, you probably wonder;
The place, you see, is all asunder--an overgrown mess times two
Oh, you can still see it, and visit, I guess...
It's right out yonder, under that watery mess.
And this maze of tangled brush and trees--
Well that's the fence row that Grandpa used to clean.
But Grandpa died a city man--no fence row, no fields, no spring;
And Grandma there beside him--nothing else but to dream;
To dream of being on the Place just like they always had,
To dream of where their fathers lay and the family that they had.
But that's life I suppose; it's just the way it goes;
So with progress--the rivers they rose.
And now at the foot of the cabin where Grandma used to play,
The fingers of that loathsome bay reach out and seem to say,
"Now is mine--and mine alone--and for me will always be, the
heritage that you dream of...
And the PLACE you long to see."

(For many this loss is compounded with outrage when we now see TVA's businesses replacing those we had, and contract farmers planting, haying, and grazing cattle on our farms in the new push to turn the LBL into a commercial enterprise. We understand exactly how narrow the justification for taking our homes and heritage was; and that the sole justification is now being willfully abandoned with each new commercial venture between the rivers.)

Mr. Frank DePriest standing in front of his grocery in the Star Limeworks community. Mr. DePriest was the descendent of a French soldier who came to America to fight with LaFayette. On their tour of the "western frontier" after the revolutionary war, DePriest decided to stay between the rivers. This family was forced to leave because such commercial activity would not be allowed in the new recreation area. The site of DePriest Grocery is within half a mile of TVA's new grocery at Hillman Ferry campground.

What the LBL continues to mean to us.
The cemetery rescue effort.
Please check back for more information.

If you would like additional sources of information on the people from Between the Rivers, there are a few books available.

* Dr. J. Milton Henry published a book under contract for Austin Peay State University and TVA during the formation of the LBL. The book is called Land Between the Rivers. It is doubtful you can acquire this book from TVA because he said a few favorable things about us; but Austin Peay University may still be a source.

*Betty Joe Wallace wrote Between the Rivers: History of the Land Between the Lakes. It was also published by Austin Peay University, in 1992.

Norma Jean (Rhodes) Ladd has published three volumes on the families from between the rivers, with a focus on the Lyon County area. These are the outgrowth of the regular reunions held by the former residents. Her books are called L.B.L. Reunions and Memories from Between the Rivers. She is a native of the between the rivers area. She can be reached at: 132 Griggstown Road, Calvert City, Ky. 42029

Just please don't rely on the TVA for an accurate account of our unique culture.
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