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TVA Cultural Resources

History of TVA Cultural Resources

image of Wilson Dam

Men from the Works Progress Administration excavate a shell midden – a site composed largely of shellfish remains – on TVA land in Alabama.

Realizing that many archaeological sites would be inundated with the completion of the agency’s reservoirs, TVA’s first Board of Directors commissioned surveys and excavations by archaeologists at regional universities. William S. Webb of the University of Kentucky, for example, did archaeological work in the Norris Reservoir Basin, and the Smithsonian Institution published his research in 1938. This report was the first of many compiled on the archaeology of the TVA region.

TVA began hiring its own full-time archaeology staff in 1974 to help preserve and document the historic sites and structures owned or impacted by the agency. Since the early 1990s, the primary goal of the Cultural Resources staff has been to guide the agency’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations designed to protect significant cultural resources across the TVA region.

To read a short history of the agency, go to TVA History. For short articles about events and figures in that history, see TVA Heritage. For further research into the history and development of TVA, see the bibliography of sources.

TVA historic photograph collection

TVA photographed its work in the TVA region right from the start. It has a collection of over 20,000 black-and-white negatives (8x10, 5x7, 4x5, and 2x2), and over 5,000 8x10 original file prints. The collection covers the years 1933 through 1983. The subject matter includes many of TVA’s program activities such as instruction in better farming practices, installation of power lines, rural electrification, and construction of power facilities. Questions regarding these photographs may be sent here.

image of Wilson Dam

The TVA photo collection provides glimpses of rural life in the early 20th century. This 1933 photo shows J. W. Melton and his wife of Andersonville, Tennessee. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Two other TVA photographic collections have been transferred to the National Archives:

  • The construction progress negatives that formally document the changes in the construction of each hydro and fossil plant. Most of these are large-format negatives.
  • The Kodak negatives that document the development of each TVA reservoir. They are generally 2x2 or 35 mm.

For more information on these collections, please contact:

National Archives
5780 Jonesboro Road Morrow, GA 30260
Fax: 770-968-2547


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