New Deal artifacts unveiled at TVA building
NORRIS, Tenn. (AP) — A 2016 lightning strike at a TVA building led to a discovery that TVA archaeologist Marianne Shuler described, appropriately, as “shocking.”
During renovations after the fire, workers found brick work covering a 1937 electric kiln which TVA had used to demonstrate some of the uses for new electricity in the region. The large tunnel kiln was used to “fire” glazed pottery, dishware and porcelain at the former Norris Ceramics Research Laboratory, according to TVA information.
Reporters gathered recently for a chance to see the kiln. TVA representatives showed them photographs of teapots from the kiln. Pottery from the kiln was sold at a small shop which then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited.
After looking at those photographs, the reporters came, one by one to look at the inside of the brick structure.
“What you’re going to see today is something that’s never before been seen by the public,” TVA spokesman Mike Bradley told the print and television reporters, assembled in Norris at what is now the TVA Norris Engineering Lab Complex.
“It’s kind of rusty and dirty in there,” Shuler said, warning the reporters to wear hard hats and be careful about touching the structure’s walls.
Shuler called the kiln a “huge part of TVA history.”
The kiln was electric, not gas-powered like most in the USA at that time. She said the kiln was intended to show off some uses for electricity. TVA had recently begun working on supplying electricity to the area with the start of construction on Norris Dam in 1933.
“The idea was that they would create a laboratory where they would learn how they could use the new electricity that they were making from the dam to fire ceramic ware and create very fine ceramics that could be used to compete in foreign markets,” the archaeologist said. She also said TVA researched the use of North Carolina clay, called kaolin, for these projects.
“They wanted to see if they could do that and prove the market and then be able to share that with the people in the region who are interested in this industry,” she said.
Shuler said the TVA Director Arthur Morgan and ceramics engineer Robert Gould started on the project and created a laboratory in 1934, just one year after the dam’s construction started. Norris Dam’s construction finished in 1936.
TVA completed construction of the kiln the following year in June 1937, after years of testing.
Shuler described the kiln at that time as a “55 foot long continuous tunnel.” She said there was “some sort of machine” that moved the materials around.
Shuler said to understand the kiln’s operation, archaeologists will need to “get inside” the tunnel itself, which she said she had not yet done.
In 1938, TVA presented the research to the public, proving that a high temperature electric kiln could compete with gas kilns. Shuler said another federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Mines took over the site at that time and used the kiln to extract minerals. It held the site until 1965.
Shuler and others mentioned that the kiln area, as it appears now, may include some of the Bureau’s changes, such as a restroom to one side of the kiln and a central area of unclear purpose, which the reporters entered to take photographs.
Later during that time, Shuler said, the Bureau of Mines “came to a point where they did not need the kiln any more” and constructed a carpentry shed, leaving the kiln “walled over and completely forgotten about.”
Shuler said TVA took over the site again in 1965 but did not know any remnants of the kiln had survived. Bradley said TVA had offices in the building as part of the TVA Norris Engineering Lab Complex.
Then, lightning struck the building, causing a fire. After the fire, workers cleaned up the damaged area.
Shuler said that during the cleanup, these workers had spotted “extensive brickwork” behind a wall. They notified TVA’s archeologists, who investigated and found the kiln.
Shuler said she would like to preserve the kiln for public education.
“It’s a huge, huge, significant resource to TVA and important to our history and who we are and the things that we’ve done,” she said.
Also on display were some plates that Shuler said had been fired in the kiln. She said she found them under another building’s crawlspace, placed there for unknown reasons, but possibly to preserve them.
Information from: The Oak Ridger, http://www.oakridger.com