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Historic Legacies

Local Voices
Cable Grist Mill in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open to the public – ehrlif

History here feels personal.

Walk down any East Tennessee road with a native and you'll hear the story behind each landmark. That sense of identity bound to the past motivates East Tennesseans to hang onto their history, even as they lament what slips away to time and urban development.

For some, it's the story of frontier days. For others, it's the Civil War, when ancestors on both sides clashed at spots within sight of home. Here's the trail trod by Indian and white alike. There's the spring where brothers in blue and in gray met with rifles at the ready. "People have an interest in their immediate surroundings," said Spurgeon King, associate director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. "When history becomes personal, people can relate to that."

For some, it's the Tennessee Valley Authority era, when the dams and bridges that still stand today brought power, industry and work that fed hungry families. "Every generation of TVA has had its own challenges and opportunities to deal with," said Pat Ezell, TVA's corporate historian. "The Depression generation built the dams and tamed the river. The World War II generation won the war. Later generations put land preservation into practice."

Each generation finds its own connection to the past – a reason to identify with the people who've walked here before.

– Matt Lakin