Widows Creek Mural

Preserving the Legacy

TVA has always been conscious of growing with the times in serving the Valley. But with recent and continuing demolitions of TVA’s fossil plants — John Sevier, Johnsonville, Colbert, and Widows Creek — retirees are wondering: what about the history of TVA’s past energy successes?

Since the demolition of John Sevier Fossil Plant, Bob Deacy, Senior Vice President, Generation Projects and Fleet Services, and Roger Waldrep, Manager, Decommissioning, have partnered with TVA’s Historian, Pat Ezzell, to answer this question and preserve the materials within the plants as a way to memorialize the facilities and their employees.  

Before decommissioning can begin at any location, the team searches the plant to see what items make the most sense for repurpose — lettering, photos, busts, etc. And, with the decommissioning of Widows Creek, the team has found its most noteworthy item for preservation yet: a ceramic mosaic mural by TVA artist, Robert Birdwell.  

“This abstract mural is unlike any other that Birdwell created for TVA in both medium and subject matter,” Ezzell said. “It captures TVA’s power program—highlighting stacks at the fossil plants, dams, and transmission lines— there is even a rocket blasting off, perfectly capturing the Space Age of the late 1960s.”

Widows Creek Mural

The mural is made up of 126 painted ceramic tiles with glass to form the mosaics attached to the tiles, and it’s very fragile. The team had to call in Cincinnati firm, Fine Arts Conservation Incorporated, to help remove the mural. Fine Arts Conservation carefully numbered each ceramic tile after removing them from the wall to place them in storage until their permanent placement can be decided.   

But that’s not the only unique piece that the team has preserved. According to Deacy, they have preserved white Alabama marble from the Colbert plant and installed it in the new Allen combined cycle gas plant.

“We were surprised when we realized what it was,” he said. “Marble like that is rare, and you just don’t see it in places because it’s not available anymore. The marble and mosaic really are testaments to the unique impact our retirees had, and we’re looking forward to telling employees’ stories by preserving more like them.”

As of today, the team has repurposed: the original “Built for the People of the United States” lettering and tan marble from the Widows Creek Fossil Plant’s Unit 1-6 lobby area; the bust of Major Thomas H. Allen that once stood in the Allen Fossil Plant lobby; the painted mural that was featured in the Johnsonville Fossil Plant lobby; and various other TVA related materials from across the Valley.

The lettering and tan marble are already part of the lobby at the new Paradise combined cycle gas plant, while the bust is in the newly constructed Allen plant lobby with the white Alabama marble. Other items will soon be placed in the Chattanooga Complex.

Though the mosaic mural doesn’t have a designated site yet, the team believes it will tell future employees of their TVA heritage.

“These plants and employees contributed to the economic growth and prosperity in the region after World War II,” Ezzell said. “We want to value that history — the legacy of our employees and these plants — and the important service they provided to the region. The repurposing of the letters or marble from decommissioned plants into new plants helps us tell everyone: Your work is valued. You made a difference. You served the people well. ”

Deacy agreed.

“We value all that retirees have done to help build TVA into what it is today,” he said. “Recognizing the past means to gain insight into the future, and that’s why making our retirees’ hard work the foundation of our plants today is so important. We wouldn’t be here without them.”