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The construction of Interstate 77, scheduled for toll lanes in 2018, escalated the number of people who came to live around Lake Norman. At that time of filling the lake in 1963, N.C. 115 and U.S. 21 were the primary roadways used to travel through the region.

Lake Norman is North Carolina’s largest man-made lake and, according to the Duke Energy website, opened for business in July 1963.

The lake was created by damming the Catawba River with the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station.

Since its creation, the lake has spurred changes to many aspects of the everyday lives of people living in the area.

“Basically it was part of a larger project up and down the Catawba River for creating power plants,” said Chuck McShane, author of the book, “A History of Lake Norman: Fish Camps to Ferraris.”

The first plant was built on Lake Wylie, and the Lake Norman plant was actually the last one, McShane said.

Changing more than the landscape

The construction of Lake Norman forever changed the landscape of the region, both in a physical sense but also in terms of the number of people who came to the area. At first, the population of the region’s town did not change that much, but as the lake reached its 30th birthday, in the early 1990s, Huntersville, Cornelius and Mooresville all more than tripled their number of residents. Here are some changes from the building of the lake to now, using the latest Census data. 

*The 1960 population is for Lincoln County

Town 1960 population 2016 population
Huntersville 1,004 54,839
Cornelius 1,444 28,515
Davidson 2,573 12,452
Mooresville 6,918 36,543
Denver 7,746* 18,287

Though he is not originally from the Lake Norman area, McShane lived in Davidson for a little while and decided to write a book about the lake’s history following research and work he did on an article for Charlotte Magazine.

Lake Norman high schools

When Lake Norman was completed, of the current area high schools, only North Meck and Mooresville High existed. Today, including public charters, there are 10 in our coverage area. One of the three in 1963, Torrence Lytle, was for African-American students and closed in 1966.

High schools in 1963 High schools in 2017
3 10

Major roadways

Although Interstate 77 will soon have a total of eight lanes through much of Lake Norman, its four lanes are still more than in 1963, when the highway had not reached the region yet. 

Road No. of lanes in 1963 No. of lanes in 2017
I-77 0 4
Brawley School Road 2 5

With the size of Lake Norman, it is able to support three different power plants, which are the Cowans Ford Station, McGuire Nuclear Station and the Marshall Steam Station. Though the lake wasn’t built until the 1960s, land for what would eventually become the future lake began being bought as early as the 1920s. The plans to build a lake in the area didn’t become public until 1957, and that’s when the buying of land really began to speed up. A lot of the buildings and vegetation on the land that would later become the future Lake Norman was bulldozed down, though a few sites such as the Long Island Mill, remained intact and is now under Lake Norman.

With the construction of Lake Norman, a lot of things changed, including the way people got around the area, McShane said.

“The change has been tremendous, and I think it’s important we remember the history,” McShane said.

When it comes to transportation, the construction of Interstate 77 helped a lot with the expansion of the lake especially since people couldn’t use some of the routes they used to since the lake was now in the way.  

I-77 made it easier for people to get from the Lake Norman area to Charlotte more quickly. Before I-77 people around the Lake Norman area would often go to Charlotte for maybe a weekend trip, but after it was built and sewer systems began being expanded to the area, people began traveling from Lake Norman to Charlotte more often, McShane said.

Not long after Lake Norman was built, parts of I-77 were open. Before then, people mainly travelled along N.C. 115 and U.S. 21 to get from the lake area to Charlotte. I-77 made the travel quicker, though today with so much growth and congestion on I-77, traveling the old roads is sometimes quicker, said O.C. Stonestreet, a Mooresville native who knows a lot of the history of the area.

He remembers when the lake was first being created and filled. He would drive up on Sunday afternoons to see workers filling in the water for it. Stakes had been placed in the ground at that time by the workers and were marked to show the current water levels. He also remembers playing in the Mooresville High School band in 1965 at the dedication of the Coward’s Ford Dam after the lake had been filled, Stonestreet said.

“They had cleared the basin for it (Lake Norman) in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s,” Stonestreet said.

It took several years from the time the basin was cleared to actually have the lake filled up, he said.

Before Lake Norman was created there were not a lot of people living in the area. The lake began attracting more people, and during the first few years it existed people put trailers along the lake, which they used when visiting the area.

Later people began building houses by the lake, which increased property values and began attracting even more people to the area. Today the lake has become somewhat of a bedroom community for Charlotte, Stonestreet said.

According to a property advertisement for land along Lake Norman on the Davidson College Library website, Commodore Peninsula was one of the first locations where people could buy waterfront property on Lake Norman. The advertisement states that waterfront and water view lots were available for $795 with as little as $10 down. The lots are described in the advertisement as perfect for weekend summer vacationing, year-round living and entertaining.  People were also given their choice of lots with gradual slopes or deeper landings as well as encouraged to prepare their beach and build their pier before water was in the lake.

According to the Davidson College Library website, such items as tombstones and entire cemeteries were moved as a result of the lake’s construction.

The Caldwell Family Cemetery for instance was moved in 1961 from what is now Lake Norman to the McKendree United Methodist Church cemetery in Mooresville, and that same year, the Cornelius Family Cemetery was moved from what is now also Lake Norman to the Rehobeth United Methodist Church Cemetery in Sherrills Ford.

Clay Stutts, a member of Rehobeth United Methodist Church who works with a group to maintain the church’s cemetery, said he didn’t have any information about graves reportedly moved from what is now Lake Norman to the church. He  has been in the area all his life and remembers looking forward to the lake when he first heard about it.

“I remember thinking I wouldn’t have to drag the boat to Lake Hickory,” Stutts said.

Before Lake Norman existed, he remembers often taking his boat to Lake Hickory when he wanted to use it. Stutts grew up around the Terrell area and remembers the area as being much different before the lake.

There wasn’t a lot of people, and the area was mostly a farming community, Stutts said.

Along with living around the area much of his life, he also worked on Lake Norman at the Marshall Steam Plant plant for many years. People have different thoughts about whether Lake Norman was a good thing to be built in the area, but  he feels it was good for the area, he said.

“I think it’s obviously an economic motor for the area,” Stutts said.

More information about Lake Norman and its history can be found on the Davidson College Library website at www.davidson.edu/library, the Duke Energy website at www.duke-energy.com/energy-education/energy-centers-and-programs/energyexplorium-at-mcguire and in McShane’s “A history of Lake Norman: Fish Camps to Ferraris," which can be found in local bookstores as well as the Amazon website.

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