The History of the Road to Nowhere
With WWII underway in the 1940’s, there was an increased need for electricity to produce aluminum and research being conducted at Oak Ridge TN for the top secret Manhattan Project. Fontana Dam was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority to meet the need to generate electricity for Oak Ridge. Many towns and communities were "cleared out" or eliminated by the Tennessee Valley Authority's acquisition of land for the Fontana Dam and the subsequent acquisition of land from Swain County by the Department of the Interior for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With the Dam in place, the Little Tennessee River was flooded and Fontana Lake was formed in its place.
Town of Judson from the 1920's
Most don't know that many Swain County residents called the area "home" for many years, or that there were churches, schools, mining, farms, orchards, large scale timbering, and communities throughout. With the flooding of the area to build the Dam, over 1,300 families were displaced. Almost overnight, the communities of Fontana, Ritter, Proctor, Medlin, Bone Valley, Walker Creek, Wayside, Marcus, Dorsey, Japan, Chambers Creek, Bushnell, Alarka, Almond, Judson, Forney, Noldand, Goldmine, and Epp Springs disappeared. Swain County lost 25% of their populations, who relocated throughout Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and North Georgia.
Roads that were inundated by the rising flood waters of Fontana Lake made these towns and communities inaccessible. These lands are now called the "North Shore" and after being acquired by the TVA, the lands were given to the National Park. Thirty-five known cemeteries were rendered inaccessible except to those willing to walk cross-country or cross the lake in a boat and walk to the cemeteries.
By the mid-70's, a few recognized these cemeteries were in bad shape and efforts were begun to gain access for care, maintenance, and decorations. Today, the North Shore Cemetery Association hosts decorations at 28 of those cemeteries. The others are inaccessible or not decorated at the request of families.
Learn more about the Road to Nowhere and the history of Swain County at the Swain County Heritage Museum in downtown Bryson City.
Steeped in history, the Road to Nowhere is a scenic drive, hiking destination and monument to the past, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A six-mile winding road weaves through the National Forest, with multiple scenic stops along the way