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Jordan Lake Project

Newcomers to Chatham County could easily mistake Jordan Lake for a feature of the environment which has been there for centuries, but to those who have roots in the county, they know just how new the lake is. The project to create a “New Hope Lake” began after the Homestead Hurricane of 1945 led to extreme flooding in the area, but the lake itself would not be formally opened until ‘The Great Flood’ of 1981 when the lake was filled.

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(Photo courtesy of Heather Leigh Wallace and the US Army Corps of Engineers)

The creation of Jordan Lake has led to a boon for Chatham County in the lake’s ability to conserve the environment, provide water to nearby areas, and lend a space for the creation of new memories for Chathamites on the water or the coast. The legacy of the lake, however, is also one of the people who lived, worked, and built communities on the land the lake now sits upon. In Chatham 250’s mission to preserve the county’s history for the next generation, we have an obligation to put forward the stories of those who once lived where Jordan Lake now stands and hear what the transition off their land was like for them.

Chatham 250 has conducted a few oral histories of people who once lived on the land where the lake now rests and had to move their homes or churches. One of the main topics of discussion in these interviews was the subject of compensation. The Army Corps of Engineers was charged with mapping where the new lake was to be filled, and after that was finalized, those people who owned land and houses in the area had their property bought out via the process of Eminent Domain. There is much discussion about whether the compensation was adequate for the inconvenience of relocation, but most of those we spoke with agreed that moving was both an opportunity for growth as well as a challenge.

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(Photo courtesy of Heather Leigh Wallace and the US Army Corps of Engineers)

Another subject of importance is the moving of churches and perhaps more importantly their cemeteries. While those we spoke with have said that the graves were relocated to new church locations, the process of that relocation remains ambiguous. One of the benefits of oral history is that these are only a few of the many topics discussed with the Chathamites we had the pleasure of speaking with.

Another story that did not come up in these specific interviews, but one that should not be buried by the lake, is that of Eugene Daniel. Eugene was a Black sixteen-year-old who was killed by a mob of vigilantes in 1921 at a location which is now covered by the lake. Eugene was jailed after a White girl told her parents someone had been in her room, and hound dogs traced a scent to the home of Eugene. A mob of armed men later removed Eugene from the Pittsboro Jail, and took him to the location of his death where he was hanged with a tire chain and shot to death with bullets.  The young man had just turned sixteen and was unable to be tried by a jury of his peers as was his right. This history is jarring and tragic, but an obligation to preserve the past includes not only the triumphs but also the ugly parts too. 

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(Photo courtesy of Heather Leigh Wallace and the US Army Corps of Engineers)

We hope these histories of the challenges of transition and the hardships that are often buried by new development show how the past is currently in the process of being created as we speak. The events and challenges we are living through now may also appear in twenty or one hundred years as a note alongside a related matter. We invited you consider how close the past really is, and how it is being made today, as you listen to the thoughtful interviews we had the pleasure of recording from local Chathamites.

Historical Photos of the Construction of Jordan Lake

Photos Before the Flood

Dedication Ceremony Photos


Photos After the Flood

The Haw River Sites

The NC Collection at Wilson Library partnered with Chatham Community Library to  make the 3-volume set digitized and available to the public.

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