This article was originally printed in The New York Times
November 21, 2008
Lake Living in Solitude Draws ‘Outsiders'
By ROBERT STRAUSS
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.
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 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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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."
LAY OF THE LAND
POPULATION: 1,465, according to a 2006 Census
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.