Driving through the Ocoee River Gorge, tourists can see the various buildings and dams that form the hydroelectric system now run by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Some of the buildings are even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just south of Powerhouse No. 2, however, is a small stretch of land right by the riverside where a village once stood.
All that remains of Caney Creek Village are a few concrete foundations and the stories of those who once lived there, and those stories have now been captured by a Cleveland family in a new documentary, “Going Home.”
Debbie Moore, an elementary teacher in the Bradley County Schools system and amateur historian, first heard about Caney Creek Village from a colleague whose father, John “Doc” German, was born in the village in 1932.
“When I went to Doc’s house, he pulled out all his pictures, and it was really fascinating to me that you had that town in the isolated mountains,” Moore said.
Moore soon found herself listening to stories of a village by the Ocoee River where there were modern conveniences like running water, indoor plumbing and electric appliances in a time when the rest of the country was still pumping water by hand and lighting houses with oil lamps.
“Caney Creek was almost 20 or 30 years before its time,” said Will Moore, Moore’s son and the producer and videographer for the documentary.
Will, a media technology student at Chattanooga State Community College, became involved with the project when Moore convinced him to meet with German and record an interview with him in the studio where he was an intern.
German told stories about growing up in the isolated little town, having groceries delivered every Friday morning, playing on the concrete sidewalk that ran in front of the houses and even getting into mischief by riding his bicycle into the river with a rope attached to it so that his friend could pull the bicycle back out while he swam to shore.
“At some point in time we said, ‘Doc’s got these great stories, I wonder if anyone else has stories,’” Moore said, and a family project to preserve the stories of Caney Creek Village was born. Moore wrote and narrated the documentary, Will filmed and produced it, and Moore’s husband, Ron, edited all of the footage.
The Eastern Tennessee Power Company built Caney Creek Village in 1912 to house the workers of Powerhouse No. 2 when the Ocoee Dam No. 1 project flooded the roads leading to the second dam.
At one point, Caney Creek was recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the only town in the United States that had never had a car in it. The village was accessible only by boat or a suspension bridge connecting it to Highway 64. When TVA took over the power system on the Ocoee River in 1939, it began the process of closing the village. It was open long enough for the completion of a third dam, then the village officially closed in 1943. All of the structures were dismantled and moved from the village, leaving only concrete foundations. The land, while secured by TVA, is now part of Cherokee National Forest.
Thanks in part to a grant from the Bradley County Genealogical Society, the Moore family began collecting interviews on camera for the documentary.
Moore decided to take German back to the village to film him in what was left of his boyhood home. The group first needed to receive permission from both TVA and the National Forest Service to film on the property, a process that took six months.
A group of about 15 people went on the filming expedition, including representatives from a Chattanooga newspaper. The publication ran an article about German revisiting the site and Moore’s efforts to gather the stories from Caney Creek Village, at which point Will ran his phone number and email address asking for anyone with information to contact him. The Moores soon were being contacted from as far away as Texas and as close as Alcoa.
With German’s help, the Moore family had soon interviewed five other former residents of Caney Creek Village.
Mrs. Margaret Poe Trotter moved to Caney Creek in 1934 as a sixth-grader and fondly shared memories of developing her passion for teaching when she taught her first Sunday School class in the village at age 12.
“We were filming her, and in a break when we were adjusting the cameras, she said to us, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this. The doctors have told me I have about 30 days to live,’” Moore said. “She died 20 days after we filmed her.”
Trotter shared her stories of Caney Creek as well as her trip back to the area on her 87th birthday. Her story of revisiting Caney Creek and German’s visit back to the area are the inspiration for the name “Going Home.”
The oldest person interviewed for the documentary was Anna Ruth Lillard Green of Benton, who will be 100 years old in May. She was the only person the team could find who had lived in Caney Creek as an adult. Her stories tell about life in the village as a young wife and mother, from enjoying the conveniences of the village to how rent increased dramatically when TVA took over.
The documentary also includes interview with Troye Moore Linginfelter, who came to Caney Creek as a sixth-grader in 1932; Marilyn Lowe Kirkland, considered to be the last baby born in Caney Creek; and Kirkland’s older sister Geraldine Lowe King.
The Moore family did have technical difficulties with some of the footage they captured in videos, but with troubleshooting help from Will’s professors, the family got all the footage they needed to piece together the story of Caney Creek and its residents. Moore said that one of the greatest assets of the documentary is the quality of the storytellers in the interviews.
After capturing all of the stories on camera, Moore began the task of writing them all into a storyboard for the documentary. Her husband also began the task of learning the video editing software used in the creation of the documentary.
In total, Moore estimates each family member easily spent 80 hours working toward finishing the production of the documentary, in addition to all of them working full-time jobs and the regular hustle and bustle of life. Moore and her husband, Ron, also host a weekly radio show on 99.9 WOOP FM called Old Town Cleveland that explores different aspects of local history.
“We’re kind of glad no one came along and said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Moore said. “If we’d had a clue what we were doing, we wouldn’t have done it.”
The documentary also features all-original music from Cleveland musician John Cook. Moore also wrote a book to accompany the DVD; both will be available at the premiere of the documentary.
“We’re really pleased with how it has turned out,” Moore said. “It’s just a real special story.”
The premiere of “Going Home” will be Sunday, March 24, at 3 p.m. at Walker Valley High School. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Old Town Cleveland website, www.oldtowncleveland.com.