Swain County, N.C.
Altitude: 1,590 feet
By the mid-1920s a brick school building had been completed in the Almond community. Throughout western North Carolina, improved roads and the use of buses allowed for the consolidation of smaller schools into larger school buildings. Among the schools to consolidate at Almond were Judson, Wesser, and Hewitts. These pictures show the Almond High School and the school’s 1925 commencement program. In the 1930s, the proposal to build a dam on the Little Tennessee River at Fontana raised the possibility that the high school building would be inundated by the waters of a new lake.
As in the case of the nearby community of Almond, the decision to build a new school in the Alarka community provided the opportunity to consolidate smaller schools into the new structure through the use of improved roads and motor vehicles. The Alarka School was built in 1937–1938 as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a program to provide employment and community-based structures during the Great Depression. In addition to utilizing local labor, many WPA projects incorporated local building materials that added a visual appeal to the building and made it appear organic to the locale. In 1928 Ellen Engelmann Black completed a thesis titled “A Study of the Diffusion of Culture in a Relatively Isolated Mountain County” (University of Chicago) about Swain County. Black commented that,
“The county superintendent in his worn Ford coupe can visit any school throughout his territory within a few hours while fifteen years ago, he did not see some of his buildings from one year’s end to the next. In the more progressive districts consolidation is rapidly taking place and the country boys and girls are being given the advantages of the three high schools of the county.”
“Fontana Dam Site”
In the 1930s the Nantahala Power & Light Company, originally organized as a subsidiary of the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa), had proposed to build two 220-foot high dams on the Little Tennessee River to provide the electricity necessary for aluminum production and also be a public supplier for the region. In the mid-1930s, Alcoa began negotiations with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to take over the site and build a larger structure. The proposal, and eventual decision, to build a single 450-foot high dam at Fontana meant that many of the communities along the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries were ultimately fated to be inundated by rising waters behind the superstructure. While construction at Fontana did not begin until 1941, it meant planning for the reservoir and relocation of existing roads, railways, and communities. For instance, the community of Judson had experienced a period of prosperity from the 1910s into the 1920s after the Whiting Manufacturing Company began logging operations in the area. However, by the late 1920s the company had ceased activities. While Judson and neighboring communities, such as Almond, maintained an identity and carried on agricultural and other economic pursuits, these communities found their futures intertwined as plans for hydroelectric developments were pursued and lands were acquired. One distinction for Almond was the presence of a part-time resident, the noted author Olive Tilford Dargan, who often used the pen name Fielding Burke, and who used the location of Almond as the basis for some of her novels.
Click on the aerial view photo to see it larger.
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