Prior to the land being established as a state park it was home to approximately 36 families. They were farmers who raised livestock, grew gardens and fruit trees to feed their families. When they needed to purchase items they often went to Coal Creek to get them. Later Coal Creek would be renamed Lake City when the dam was built. Many know it by its current name, Rocky Top. The 1930’s would change that. In 1928 the stock market crashed opening the next decade to the Great Depression. During President Roosevelt’s first 100 days he created the New Deal. Formed by many programs the goal was to employee citizens and get the country back on its feet. Several of these programs helped establish the park.
These included the Civilian Conservation Corp, Tennessee Valley Authority, and although not part of the New Deal, the National Park Service in later years. TVA purchased land that would become Norris Lake, and from 1933 to 1936 constructed Norris Dam. While TVA was working on the dam, the CCC developed the land that would become the park. They built 20 rustic cabins and the Tea Room. Over the years the Tea Room has severed several purposes, acting as a restaurant feeding visitors, serving ice cream from a window, and selling light supplies to campers; it has been a dance hall and during its entire time of existence has been a meeting place. The CCC also built an outdoor amphitheater with split log seating, the park superintendant’s residence, and picnic area. All of these still stand today reminding us of the difficult times, hard work, and the culture.
While the CCC camp which constructed the east side did not reside on the park grounds, another camp did. CCC 494/TVA 95 camp was situated in the hollow now known as Camp Sam/Camp Kinchen.
The park is fortunate to have several historic buildings, in addition to the rustic cabins and Tea Room. The Rice Gristmill is also an important historical building. James Rice built the gristmill in 1798; it was operated by the Rice family until 1935 when the Rice family had to move for the Norris Dam project. However, it was saved from a watery grave when the CCC and NPS carefully marked, dismantled, and reassembled it at its current location.
During the planning stages Norris Park was considered being designated for African-Americans in addition to T.O. Fuller in Memphis. However, Booker T. Washington in Chattanooga was chosen instead. The park “opened its doors” to the public in May of 1936. During its early years Norris Park was visited by several dignitaries, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor on several occasions and by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in 1952 when she dined at the Tea Room.
For 18 years TVA managed Norris Park. In 1952 the state leased the park from TVA and in August of 1953 the state purchased it for $28,969. Norris Park became Norris Dam State Park and was one of the first five parks in Tennessee’s newly created park system. For the next several years little was done to the park. In the early 1960’s the east campground was put in.
The 1970’s was a time for change at Norris Dam State Park. The Crosby Threshing Barn was built during the 1840’s and was used for about 100 years. Due to the construction of Cherokee Dam in 1940 the Crosby family donated the barn to the National Park Service. The barn was dismantled and sat in storage for 30 years. The NPS donated the barn to Norris Dam State Park and it was reassembled in the mid 1970s at its current location. During the same time and just up the hill from the Crosby threshing barn, the Lenior Museum was opening. William G. Lenior and his wife Helen collected various items from the Southern Appalachian region. Mr. Lenior donated thousands of artifacts to the state on the condition a museum be built to show, preserve, and teach about the life in the region. The west side of the park was developed in the mid 1970’s as well. Ten deluxe cabins, a larger campground, swimming pool and recreation hall, park office, maintenance facilities, and two ranger residences were built.
In 1986 water front land was acquired from TVA allowing the development of a marina. In 1998 a second picnic shelter was built, and in 2002 a new swimming pool opened on July 4th. Even though the park has changed over the last 75 years, we can still look at it and see the park as it stood in its beginning years. Although no longer housing horses, the stables are still standing and the steps to the floating dock are now steps to a fishing hole.