Posted in Ancestor Stories

Loyston Grave Relocations

When the Tennessee Valley Authority came to Loyston, they knew they had to do two things. They had to relocate families and relocate graves. To do so, the TVA developed two departments. One group was responsible for interviewing families and taking inventory. (I’ll talk about that later this week.) The other group was responsible for documenting graves and contacting family members to ask permission to move their loved ones. Needless to say, the business of moving graves was not an enviable task.

Finding the Families

The first step to moving the graves in Loyston, was to find the heirs of those who were buried. Remember, it was the 1930s and some of the graves were marked with years from the 1800s. Finding the next of kin was no easy matter. The best course of action was to reach out the community to find family members. For that reason, it worked to the TVA’s advantage that Loyston, and the surrounding communities, were close-knit. Usually someone knew someone who was related to the person the TVA was looking for.

Once found, each heir had to sign off on the grave removal contract to give the TVA permission to dig up the remains and relocate them to a different cemetery. The TVA had a few cemeteries established for this reason. For example, New Loyston Cemetery would become home to a vast majority of the graves. Other remains were moved to the cemeteries requested by the family members.

The Grave Removal contract for my maternal 5th Great Aunt, Rachel Loy Irwin

As you can see in the above example, Rachel Loy Irwin’s son gave permission for the grave to be relocated. While these documents do not deal with the most pleasant information, a genealogist can find some important information. We know that Rachel had a son named Harvey Irwin. She learn when she died and her cause of death. The original cemetery, and where she is being moved to, is also listed. In this case, Rachel was buried at Anna Irwin Cemetery and is being relocated to Sinking Springs Cemetery.

Moving the Graves

After the TVA located the next of kin, the next step was to actually move the graves. To do so, either the named family member in the contract (or a family appointed representative) had to accompany the TVA to the original grave. Each excavation required a witness. At each disinterment, the TVA was required to fill out a Grave Removal Record. This was an accurate report of where exactly the original grave was and what was found in the grave. It also stated who the remains were transported to the new site. Once at the new cemetery, a “foreman of reinternment” reviewed the document and signed off that everything was handled accordingly. I don’t envy anyone who had to deal with the disinterment and reinternment of the graves.

Grave Removal Record of Rachel Loy Irwin

By looking at Rachel Loy Irwin’s Grave Removal Record, you discover just how specific the disinterment team had to be. The form asks for the condition of the container and the condition of the body. They were also required to state what was found in the casket (or box in many cases). In Rachel’s the only items listed were skeletal bones. Notice in the inventory line, it states that shoes were found with the remains. In other reports, you may find pieces of cloth or hair barrettes mentioned. The inventory items makes this feel a bit more personal then just the movement of bones from one place to another.

How to Find the Records

The TVA documents also included a follow up sheet that restated where the remains were reinterred. This document also includes the inscription found on the tombstone (if any). In some cases, pictures of the tombstones were included.

Post reinternment document for Rachel Loy Irwin

I have found the easiest way to locate the TVA Grave Removal documents is on Ancestry.com. To find these specific records, you will need to go under “card catalog” under the search category. Once there, type in “Tennessee Valley” in the keyword(s) box. This will pull up several results but you should see “U.S., Tennessee Valley Cemetery Relocation Files”. This will allow you to specifically search for your ancestor.

If you missed the first part of this series, “The History of Loyston”, make sure to go check it out!

Posted in Ancestor Stories

The History of Loyston

To understand the impact that the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Norris Lake Project had on this area of East Tennessee, you have to go back to the very beginning. Now, I’m not talking about the beginning of time, but more like the beginning of this area being settled. One of the very first communities in this area was Loyston.

Sharp’s Station

The first inhabitants of what would become the town of Loyston, was Hendrich Honus Sharp (my maternal 6th Great Grandfather) and his family. Hendrich was the son of John George Sharp and Anna Maria Loy. Hendrich’s father was a German immigrant who had settled and married in North Carolina. Hendrich was born in the North Carolina back country, but made his way to Tennessee thanks to Revolutionary War land grants. He settled on a slope of Big Ridge which overlooked the Clinch River. Due to the threat of Native American attacks, Hendrich built what would be called Sharp’s Station. The Station was essentially a fort for the settlers in the area and a place of protection.

Loy’s Cross Roads

A bit to the east of where Hendrich Sharp settled, another family was making their home in East Tennessee. John William “Fisher” Loy (my maternal 5th Great Grandfather) found a place to raise his family at the base of Big Ridge. Like Hendrich, John was born in North Carolina and came to Tennessee after the Revolutionary War. He soon discovered that the area was rich in iron ore deposits. Thanks to this discovery, John established a foundry and soon found himself in the middle of a new settlement. It did not take long for Loy’s Cross Roads to become just that. A crossroad and a gathering place for those who lived nearby.

John William “Fisher” Loy’s headstone which was made from the nearby iron ore deposits.

Loyston

After a post office was established in Loy’s Cross Roads in 1866, the name of the town was changed to Loy’s Crossroads. In 1894, the name was changed once again to Loyston. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) came to survey Loyston in the 1930s, the town contained approximately 70 residents. The town itself included a post office, two general stores, a filling station, a café, a mill, and a barbershop. The majority of the residents considered themselves Methodist and attended church at the Sharp’s Station Methodist Church. Loyston had become an important community that serviced many of the smaller communities in the area. Therefore, when the TVA began talking to the town’s people about possible relocation, the residents became a bit apprehensive.

Sharp’s Station Methodist Church in the 1930s

The Flooding of Loyston

While I’ll go more in depth in future posts about the TVA and the relocation of graves and families, it’s important to understand what happened to the town itself. Loyston was flooded to make what is now Norris Lake. The town was not destroyed. After those who lived in the area were relocated and Norris Dam was finished, the town of Loyston was flooded. Rumor has it that when the lake levels are at the lowest, you can still see the top of the church steeple peaking out of the water. Divers have also taken equipment down to video what Loyston looks like. However, since the water is so murky, it is difficult to make anything out. If you ever find yourself at Big Ridge State Park, there is a trail that you can take that allows you to look out over the water where Loyston once stood.

Norris Lake where Loyston once stood