The graves of dozens of Tennessee residents were relocated during the mid-20th century when the Tennessee Valley Authority built dams in the region.
When plans for the dam at South Holston were developed in the early 1940s, there were reconnaissance investigations to locate and identify cemeteries in the reservoir area. There were 44 cemeteries found in 1941, containing 2,300 graves that would be flooded or isolated or were considered to be possible reinterment sites, according to a TVA report.
The cemeteries ranged in size from a single grave to large public cemeteries containing several hundred.
Detailed surveys were completed that showed 13 cemeteries with a total of 550 graves would be affected by flooding. Nine cemeteries, containing a total of 116 graves, would not be directly affected, but would have their existing road access flooded after impoundage of the reservoir. Two additional cemeteries, containing a total of 16 graves, would be provided access by roads to be constructed by the TVA, the report states.
As with other dam projects, beginning with Norris Dam in the 1930s, the TVA worked to identify the relatives of all those whose graves would be affected. A total of 480 removal agreements were then signed, the report states.
Of the 108 affected graves of unidentified graves, 79 were in large organized cemeteries and the cemetery trustees made arrangements for the relocation.
The other 29 unidentified graves were left undisturbed because no one could be found to execute removal contracts or provide relocation sites.
A total of 559 removal agreements and 86 remains agreements were executed for the South Holston project, the TVA states. In all, 559 graves were moved and 246 monuments were relocated.
Grave removals started in 1942 at the South Holston site, but were then interrupted due to World War II. The report says one special hardship case was removed in 1943.
Full-scale operations were resumed in the summer of 1947 and completed in October of that year. One grave, below the dam in the construction plant area, was removed from the Stophel Cemetery in November 1948 by special request of the deceased’s relatives, the report states.
Graves from the South Holston area were moved around the area, some to nearby locations, others farther away.
The Stophel Cemetery is a small graveyard currently near the Weir Dam. It has about 33 graves, most unmarked or marked only with field stones and aging, deteriorating tombstones. Graves were relocated to its current site.
The TVA maintains the Stophel Cemetery, which is along Holston View Dam Road, and features the final resting places of the Blevins, Osborn and Stophel families.
Graves were also moved for the construction of the dams at Watauga Lake and Boone Lake. A total of 103 cemeteries, including 1,281 graves, were relocated as a result of the Watauga Dam project, which began in 1942. In the 1950s, 234 graves were relocated at Boone. No graves were relocated at Fort Patrick Henry, the report states.
The TVA maintains a cemetery relocation database on its website, tva.gov.