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Ocoee Dam

People Saving Places

A Spotlight on TVA’s Preservation Experts

Protecting and preserving Native American prehistoric rock art in northeast Alabama.

Collaborating with community partners to relocate historic gravesites to a new cemetery in Gallatin, Tennessee.

Partnering with state historic preservation officers to ensure facilities and cultural landscapes retain their historic significance.

In this unique blend of projects, it’s not hard to spot the common ingredients.

People. Places. Preservation.

These projects, all celebrated this past year at TVA.com, are a small sampling of the vast body of work performed by TVA specialists and partners who champion the protection and preservation of culturally significant artifacts and places within the Valley region.

As the nation marks National Historic Preservation Month, it provides TVA an opportunity to showcase the extraordinary work of its archaeologists, historians and others who are instrumental in this mission.

The theme of this year’s National Historic Preservation Month, “People saving places,” spotlights those who are making a difference.

TVA archaeologists worked with Gallatin community members to relocate 121 historic graves to the new Garden of Eternal Freedom at Crestview Memory Gardens.

TVA archaeologists worked with Gallatin community members to relocate 121 historic graves to the new Garden of Eternal Freedom at Crestview Memory Gardens.

‘It’s a Calling’

A passion for preservation runs high among TVA’s Cultural Compliance team.

Many of them have a background in anthropology, archaeology or architectural history, and they’ve been practicing cultural resources management for decades.

Whether locating an archaeological site, determining the historic significance of a structure or managing a cultural database, these are the go-to people who help TVA navigate its responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act.

And their work isn’t just a job.

It’s a calling, said Michaelyn Harle, a manager in Cultural Compliance.

“I pursued my interest in archaeology because I wanted to make a difference,” Harle said. “And I’m able to do that in my role.”

She works alongside experts like Erin Dunsmore, a senior archaeology specialist and one of 35 TVA archaeologists collectively involved in 12,500 archaeological sites that can contain artifacts or historic features from the 1930s or earlier.

“We haven’t surveyed all of our land yet, so there could be more sites out there we don’t know about,” Dunsmore said.

The roots of their mission can be traced back to the 1960s, when a U.S. president set the groundwork for the preservation of America’s historic places.

TVA archaeologist Erin Dunsmore led a group of Alabama elected officials on a visit to the state’s Painted Bluff site, which features protected rock glyphs.

In 2023, TVA archaeologist Erin Dunsmore led a group of Alabama elected officials on a visit to the state’s Painted Bluff site, which features protected rock glyphs.  

National Historic Preservation Act

Just before lunch on Oct. 15, 1966, in the stately Cabinet Room at the White House, President Lydon B. Johnson was joined by his wife, who stood nearby in a flaming red dress, as he addressed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and a handful of western Senators.

“We have come here this morning to give part of this country back to its people,” President Johnson told the crowd.

He then listed a series of conservation measures enacted by Congress, such as the designation of new national parks and seashores.

And most notably, he signed legislation creating the National Historic Preservation Act.

The Act “will help us to preserve for our children the heritage of this great land we call America that our forefathers first saw. It … will help enrich the spirit of America,” he said.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the years after World War II, economic growth paved the way for rapid development across the U.S. – and it often led to the destruction of historic buildings and other sites of local and national significance.

In his remarks, President Johnson explained how the actions of 1966 would set a milestone for the nation by restoring “more land for more parks, for more playgrounds for our children to use, than we will lose to housing ventures, to highways, to airports, and to shopping centers.”

The National Historic Preservation Act proved significant for many federal agencies and organizations, including TVA.

The Act requires that, before a project begins, an agency must review the scope to determine if it will affect historic properties. The agency must understand what that impact might be and, if necessary, determine how to mitigate any adverse effects.

It also encourages consultation with groups such as federally recognized Tribes, which may have an interest in the historic resources.

The National Historic Preservation Act mandates other programmatic activities, too, such as inventorying TVA’s historic resources and nominating significant sites to the National Register of Historic Places, Dunsmore said.

“Having an inventory of cultural resources on our land helps us be better prepared for projects that may be on the horizon,” Dunsmore said. “Knowing where the significant historic properties are located prior to planning a project may help avoid adverse impacts and save time and money in the long run.”

On Oct. 15, 1966, President Johnson signed legislation creating the National Historic Preservation Act.

On Oct. 15, 1966, President Johnson signed legislation creating the National Historic Preservation Act.

Connecting People

TVA’s archaeologists and historians are committed to ensuring the enterprise follows the National Historic Preservation Act.

The work is vast and rewarding, and no two projects are the same.

Determining if an archaeological site is in the path of a transmission line, for example, is much different than determining how a satellite link should be placed on a historic structure.

But there’s a shared trait in these projects: They all require consultation with a variety of stakeholders, both internal and external.

While TVA consults diligently with Native Tribes, the enterprise’s cultural work also involves other stakeholders.

In a rehabilitation project at Ocoee dams, for example, TVA specialists worked with internal stakeholders to ensure treatment efforts were sensitive to properties at the sites.

“This was a comprehensive rehabilitation project that allowed us to consolidate our review efforts to address the maintenance and deterioration that all three plants have experienced over time,” TVA architectural historian Hallie Hearnes said.

Hearnes collaborated with teams at the Ocoees, as well as the Facilities Asset Management team, to preserve the physical integrity of wood windows at the sites.

TVA’s Ocoee dams underwent rehabilitation work to restore wood windows that had been damaged by humidity and extreme temperatures.

TVA’s Ocoee dams underwent rehabilitation work to restore wood windows that had been damaged by humidity and extreme temperatures.

A Spirit of Stewardship

This year, in its report to the president, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation highlighted many of the TVA Cultural Compliance team’s projects.

A few that received special notice:

  • The Archaeological Site Monitoring and Protection Program identifies areas of TVA land where archaeological sites are at the greatest risk of damage due to erosion, looting or other impacts.
  • The Tribal Cultural History Project collaborates with Tribes to create geographic historical narratives of Tribal presence in the Valley region.
  • The Garden of Eternal Freedom, in Gallatin, Tennessee, posed an opportunity to preserve five historic cemeteries dating from 1810-1950.
  • A maintenance and rehabilitation project focused on the restoration of wood windows at the Ocoee dams, which suffered damage from increased humidity and extreme temperatures.
  • Solar site programs promote preservation and renewable energy projects in Alabama and Kentucky, resulting in early coordination with stakeholders and a greater flexibility in design to avoid adverse effects on historic properties.

Spencer Sessions, who oversees this group as part of TVA External Strategy and Communications, said he couldn’t be more proud of the team’s work.

“What’s listed in the report is just the tip of the iceberg,” Sessions said. “The breadth and depth of the work this group does, the complexity. I had no idea of how many internal and external stakeholders this staff touches.”

TVA’s 10,000 employees work each day to serve the people of the region, in many different ways.

The next time you visit a TVA facility or look at a transmission line right of way, remember how the Cultural Compliance team works to serve us all – and future generations – by saving our places.

TVA archeologist Paul Avery and TVA Cultural Compliance manager Michaelyn Harle greet guests at the 2023 Cherokee Fall Festival in Vonore, Tennessee.

TVA archeologist Paul Avery and TVA Cultural Compliance manager Michaelyn Harle greet guests at the 2023 Cherokee Fall Festival in Vonore, Tennessee.

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Explore

Learn how TVA’s experts help protect the region’s heritage at the Cultural Resource Management page.

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