Can you imagine that in 1975 you could buy a waterfront lot on Lake Norman for under $1000? In fact, I have met a number of “locals” who sold their waterfront lots for even less than that thinking that they were pretty useless given how remote Lake Norman was before our Interstate I-77 was built.
So why am I writing about Lake Norman’s lot prices from 40 years ago? It just happens that I attended a great panel discussion last week at Davidson College “Exploding Canons Under the Lake“ and also began reading the just released book about Lake Norman: A History of Lake Norman, Fish Camps to Ferraris. I have always been struck by how important it is to put Lake Norman in its historical context to truly appreciate not just how lucky we are today but how many people and places were displaced and lives forever changed in order for us to enjoy our wonderful lives as “Lake People”.
The story of Lake Norman begins with a river, and the “people of the river” some 600 years ago. The names we toss around like Beatty’s Ford, Sherrill’s Ford and Cowan’s Ford are in fact the names of prominent families’ back as early as the 1700’s who claimed ownership of the shallow and narrow passages through/over the Catawba River. Life was about farming and fishing through the pre and post Civil War eras. What is now the luxury gated community of Governor’s Island in Denver was once referred to as “Goat Island” because of a herd of wild goats that inhabited it!
In 1905, three brilliant men, William States Lee, James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, and Dr. Walker Gill Wylie had a vision to create a hydroelectric power grid along the Catawba River. By the 1950’s Duke Power had acquired over 64,000 acres, enough land to break ground in 1959 for the Cowan’s Ford Dam. Once built, it took two years to fill and create Lake Norman which was officially completed in June of 1963.
Until the the completion of I-77 in 1975, Lake Norman was still perceived as a distant vacation retreat and was barely developed. But once folks realized it was only a quick drive from Charlotte things began to happen. Since then towns like Huntersville, Cornelius and Mooresville have seen their populations increase 10 fold or more. First came the wealthy vacationers from Charlotte and then it seems the entire country discovered our lake. I have heard that 75% of Lake Norman’s residents are now “transplants” from other states and even countries.
Today I feel like there is a bit of a disconnect between the “Lake People” and the “Locals”. We transplants sometimes forget that we are newcomers who have brought our ways of life with us and perhaps don’t always appreciate the manners and customs of our local neighbors and the impact we have had on their ways of life. While I am celebrating the arrival of Whole Foods as much as anyone (Woo Hoo!) I am also conscious of keeping up local traditions like waving at strangers. As you drive by a farm stuck in between homes remember that we are all living on farm land. As the farms disappear, so do the folks who were here long before most of us. So, if you can, attend some of the community festivals, support the historic preservation efforts and community causes and get to know some of the locals if you haven’t already. If you want to meet a great ambassador for historic Mooresville just pay Cotton Ketchie a visit at his Landmark Galleries on Main Street. He has written a number of books about growing up in Mooresville and has so many clever country sayings that he will keep you in stitches whether in print or in person!
The last focus of the Davidson panel discussion was current day Lake Norman and it’s future. It is very much a case of “be careful what you wish for” because to say Lake Norman has flourished would be an understatement and they predict amazing growth in the next 20 years for the entire Charlotte region. As stewards of our great lake, it is important to work hard to maintain the quality of living by conserving our natural spaces, wildlife, clean water and open space. The Carolina Thread Trail is a great example of some future planning that will help our environment and increase our recreational experiences tremendously.
Last year, Davidson College initiated a community project, Under the Lake which is an ongoing effort to “gather stories” about what and who lived along the Catawba River before being flooded by Lake Norman. As I look down at the deep blue water while boating I try to imagine the dozen or so churches and graveyards, the handful of plantations, the cotton mills, farms, houses, barns and the tight-knit communities that once called the land, now submerged, home. So next time you are enjoying a sunset or spending time on the lake with family and friends, take a moment to remember all that came before us and the remarkable chain of events that came together to create our beloved Lake Norman.
As “Buck” Duke wrote almost a century ago: “I have always felt that this particular region had, by reason of its natural resources and climate conditions, the possibility of becoming one of the most favored and desired spots on this continent.”
Click here to buy a copy of “A History of Lake Norman, Fish Camps to Ferrari’s”