Those who grew up in the Tullahoma side of the county are likely familiar with the over 500 acres of boot-shaped TVA land that juts out into Normandy Reservoir, known colloquially simply as the pumping station. The area, once owned by the Neel Family (with several variations in family spelling) was part of the property that the TVA acquired in the seventies to create Normandy Reservoir. The Neels, according to records, were some of the earliest landowners in the county, and reportedly one of the last holdouts when TVA started buying property for the proposed lake.
A recently obtained copy of the Manchester Times dated July 8, 1976, tells of the conclusion of the family’s suit against the TVA over the property and their being awarded $600,160 for the property. The Neels were given the sum for property that amounted to 992 acres, located on the north and south sides of the lake. The family rejected an offer of $500,000 by the TVA and also sought to keep the south side of the property, where their home was located. This southern area, at the end of JD Neil Road, is near the Duck River Utility Commission water plant and a now-gated road winds back to the pumping equipment that draws water for the cities of Manchester and Tullahoma.
This large swath of TVA property is open for a variety of non-motorized uses, but is much less frequented since the access road was blocked. Back before the lake came, the area was a small community, home to two separate cemeteries and Neels Chapel Methodist Church.
In the 1980s, with JD Neel no longer living in the spacious 1887 home, with the area all but abandoned, it began to see an increase in other activities besides farming. The home eventually burned and was razed in the early 1980s. In the intervening years, the area became an illegal trash dumping ground for everything from old tires to roving shingles, as well as the place to offroad, hunt, fish and for some, the remoteness offered an ideal place for illicit activities.
Some of the more notable occurrences include the June 2004 dumping of the body of murdered Tullahoma woman, Flossie Barr’s body by her convicted assailant Henry Alfred Honea and the 2008 deaths of three teens who asphyxiated from engine exhaust. The area was finally closed to all motorized vehicles that same year.
Now memories and scars of its past remain. The old Neel homestead’s smokehouse foundation can be found in the winter months, along with the family cemetery perched atop a bluff overlooking the lake. They both have been overrun with brush and briars, yet power crews come through and clear from time to time, exposing the litter and sometimes history to be found there. A small grove of ancient oak trees, trunks 6-8 feet thick, still stand in the forest (crosscut with old four wheeler trails) that was once a lawn.
One of those trails, near a high tension powerline access road, leads to a homemade wooden cross that has been hammered into the swampy ground. Remnants of yellow caution tape still whisper secrets near there in the quiet wind.
Rules for use of undeveloped TVA Public Lands
Stays on undeveloped TVA public lands are limited to a maximum of 14 consecutive days within any 30-day period, unless otherwise posted. After 14 days, users must move at least one river mile before re-establishing a site.
Recreational use of motorized vehicles, including but not limited to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and off-road vehicles (ORVs), on TVA public lands—including within reservoir drawdown zones—is prohibited.
Drones may be operated on or over undeveloped TVA public lands in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules and regulations, unless otherwise posted.
Hunting and fishing are permitted on undeveloped TVA public lands in accordance with applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations, unless otherwise posted.
Possession and use of firearms and other weapons are permissible on undeveloped TVA public lands subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations, unless otherwise posted. If there is a conflict between federal rules/laws and other laws, federal rules/laws prevail.
Consumption of alcohol on undeveloped TVA public lands is governed by applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations, unless otherwise posted.
To contact the Public Land Information Center, ask a question online, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-882-5263.