Norris, Tennessee as seen by The New York Times

Norris School Underpass
Norris Town Clock

Afternoon pick up at Norris Elementary

Norris Town Clock

Early morning on nearby Norris Lake

This article was originally printed in The New York Times

November 21, 2008

Lake Living in Solitude Draws ‘Outsiders'


LOUIS SHARP has lived in and around Norris, Tenn., for his whole life. For the last decade or so, he has run the general store in nearby Andersonville that his father opened after World War II. Those were heady times in Norris, what with its being a half-hour drive east from Oak Ridge, the small city that was a center of research for the atomic energy industry.

"We've always been a little wary of development here," said Mr. Sharp, his long graying beard brushing the top of his overalls as he tended to customers at C. L. Sharp & Sons Grocery and Hardware. "I've still got my 10-acre farm, but there are more and more - what can I call them? - outsiders coming here."

Those "outsiders," second-home owners and retirees, are being drawn to Norris by its lake living, rural solitude, mild year-round climate and inexpensive housing - all complemented by proximity to the cities of Oak Ridge and Knoxville.

"Everyone has to meet Monte, the postmaster, to get the mail," said Pam Abramson, who lives in Orlando, Fla., and bought a condo in Norris last year with her husband, Norm, because they wanted to be in a cooler mountain region come summer. "We thought we might want to be nearer to Knoxville, or maybe far up in the mountains. But we made the turn to see Norris, and fell in love with the town commons and the tiny restaurant and, yes, going to get the mail. It is real country living."

The Abramsons bought a two-bedroom home for $172,000 in a converted Tennessee Valley Authority office building that sits between the lake and the center of town. "But that was with all new appliances, better wood floors, all things renovated," she said of their place at the Flats at Ridgeway.

Lake Norris was the first lake formed (in 1933) when the T.V.A. dammed rivers to provide electrical power to the more remote parts of the state. For decades, the hamlet of Norris, along the shore of the lake, was a company town, with authority workers living in small but sturdy homes. The center of town still looks more like a scene from a Currier & Ives New England - a town green, an old schoolhouse - rather than the rural South.

"We are not retiring yet, but ready to spend some more leisure time," said Ms. Abramson, who owns a jewelry store at home. "I think this area is for people who just want to relax."

The Scene

"The houses here look like they are chatting with one another," said Sherry Faulconer, who lives in Cynthiana, Ky. "The first time I drove through Norris, I fell in love with it. I said, ‘I am going to buy a house here.' "

Ms. Faulconer's son, John, had moved to eastern Tennessee and Ms. Faulconer, who works for the Board of Education back home, and her husband, also John, who has retired from managing a grocery store, would often drive the four or five hours to visit.

"We'd stay at some motel in Knoxville or Oak Ridge, and it would just not be all that pleasant," she said. So one day they took a drive toward the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, near Lake Norris, and happened upon Norris.

"The scene here is that there is no scene," she said. "We love nature, and we just walk around and look at the deer. Then we go to the town center, and there is always someone interesting to talk with. Sometimes my husband and son golf, and sometimes we just drive the 10 miles to the lake and sit by it."

The Faulconers now stay in the $120,000 two-bedroom house just off the town center that they bought in 2006. Their grandsons sometimes sleep over in the extra loft. "It is like a bit of Norman Rockwell that my grandsons get to be part of," she said.

Down the road, at C. L. Sharp's, there are piles of lawn-care goods stocked near snack bins, which are piled an aisle from hunting clothing, right by posters for a Dolly Parton concert. Near the back is the Cajun-Hillbilly House, where you can get fresh Louisiana barbecue ($7 for a pork plate with baked beans and homemade slaw) or, on Fridays, crawfish étouffée over rice for $4.

Wayne Chaniott came to Norris 25 years ago with his two young sons and an ache for the country. He bought Archer's Food Center, a small supermarket/deli, that has been just off the Norris commons since the early days of the T.V.A. community.

"We had one church, one business of everything, just one," Mr. Chaniott said. "It was still mostly T.V.A. people then, but even though that isn't the case now, it is still the same kind of people."

"You can't believe July the Fourth. It's only a little celebration, but everyone comes home. Everyone who ever lived here, it seems, comes back to be in the commons and be in the celebration."


Prices are low, considering the nearness to a big city - Knoxville - and the lake.


There is not much public access to the lake because the T.V.A. owns a lot of the shore.

The Real Estate Market

Rocky Smith and his development partner, Jim Hill, bought the somewhat run-down Anderson Marina and campgrounds in 2005, thinking it was just about time for the neighborhood to the east of Norris center to grow.

"This had been mostly campgrounds, people of modest means coming for the weekend," Mr. Smith said. "We think there is at least some call for things that are more luxurious."

Three years later, the shoreline off the deepest part of 34,200-acre Norris Lake now houses a gussied-up 450-slip marina and 170 condominiums that range in price from $200,000 to $500,000.

Still, most second-home buyers in and around Norris are looking for the affordable. There are a lot of lake cottages built in the 1930s and 1940s for the T.V.A. workers. They have two to four bedrooms and now go for between $150,000 and $250,000. The newer and larger lake homes tend to be log cabins with hardwood floors, big living areas and a garage/workshop attached. Most have between three and five bedrooms and start at about $300,000, rising to about $800,000 if they have lake frontage.

Diane Allred, whose real estate office is next to Mr. Chaniott's market, said that the best bargains are the old company houses built for Norris Dam workers in the 1930s. "They are well-built cottages, most having been added on to over the years, so they are sometimes three bedrooms that used to be two," she said. "Even in good condition, they could cost only $120,000."


POPULATION: 1,465, according to a 2006 Census Bureau estimate.

SIZE: 6.9 square miles.

WHERE: Norris sits in eastern Tennessee, about an hour northwest of Knoxville.

WHO'S BUYING: Mostly people near retirement who live within four to five hours. And some reverse snowbirds from Florida come for most of the summer.

 View photos of Norris from this article.

Homes For Sale In Norris
Homes For Sale In Norris

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