My family settled Between the Rivers in the 1790’s, and left in July 1968. My grandparents on each side of the family lost their homes twice to government projects. I was attending Murray State and still living with my parents when our home was taken by force, bulldozed and buried. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins homes were all taken, pits were bulldozed near the homes and all outbuildings and all signs of humanity pushed into the holes and buried as if they had never existed. The church my great grandfather helped found, was buried in a pit.
I watched as the entire picturesque and historic town of Golden Pond was bulldozed to the ground and buried. Our next door neighbors, elderly folks, were physically removed from their home by Federal Marshals. This was a common occurrence. I recall a surreal experience near the end as I was doing my homework, I heard very loud engines coming from up the road that crossed through our farm. It was one of our neighbors homes loaded on a large trailer being moved laboriously and cautiously to a barge on Lake Barkley to be transported to a new location near Cadiz.
The event under discussion here is not about the taking of the land for Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake or the 100,000 acres already owned by the government for a wildlife refuge primarily in the north end of Between the Rivers, but about the 75,000 acres in families hands that had nothing to do with the gigantic projects just mentioned, but just simply desired by the TVA and others in the government that had some warped notions about, well, I don’t think anyone today can explain the thought process behind this boondoggle. Nearly 5,000 residents lost their homes to this modern day atrocity. Practically all were financially injured as well by this atrocity, as land prices around the area skyrocketed to take advantage of the large exodus, and the people of Between the Rivers were stripped of their right to a jury trial over the price of their land by Congress. Resistance was strong, leaders took the battle to Congress, others took to a degree of physical resistance, the first sellers homes were burned, the TVA offices attacked with high powered rifles and so forth, as was amply reported by the press at the time.
In the end, it has been a disaster for the area. The Governor at the time, a huge supporter of taking all the land by force, was quoted, and I heard him say personally, that in effect, “if we can take all the land Between the Lakes, we will create a Recreation Area so powerful that it will create a Gatlingburg at Canton running toward Cadiz, and another Gatlingburg at Aurora”. Forty-four years later, nothing, literally nothing new has been spawned by the LBL at Canton, and Aurora is economically more depressed than it was before. Too much land and too many people were taken out of the equation for the region to recover from, even after this amount of time. We try to make the best out of the situation now, we exaggerate the number of tourists it attracts, hoping to make it appear more desirable and beneficial to the economy-but the cold hard facts lead to a lesson learned-hopefully.
The lesson is there must always be processes in place to control governmental excesses like this. This was Government totally out of control, at it’s worst, and misguided. It is said that this could not happen today, that eminent domain powers have been reigned in and there are better controls. That is probably true, however, it is not necessarily written down anyplace. Although this story is getting age on it now, this very appropriate recording of these unfortunate events for the Smithsonian, KET and other long term historical institutions should keep the lessons learned fresh.