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Flooded history: Enormous NC lake hides multiple ghost towns, legendary monster

Thousands of people swim, fish and boat across the surface of North Carolina's large recreational lakes each year. However, many have no idea that just beneath the surface rests remnants of lost history, forgotten by time.
Posted 2023-06-07T13:40:08+00:00 - Updated 2023-06-08T18:09:14+00:00
What lurks under Lake Norman just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina?

Thousands of boaters, fishers and beach-goers visit Lake Norman near Charlotte each year – but they may not realize the history and legends that lurk deep beneath the surface.

Lake Norman isn't the only North Carolina lake with history drowned underneath – several large manmade recreational lakes have ghost towns underneath. Lake Norman, however, has more than just one or two pieces of history hidden underneath. There's an entire Revolutionary War battlefield from 1781, the remains of a 1930s summer camp, remnants of old plantations, homes, highways, an abandoned airplane crash and even legends of a 'Loch Ness Monster' known as Normie.

Completed in the 1960s, Lake Norman is the largest manmade lake in North Carolina, spanning four counties and over 34 miles. Before it was a lake, that land was home to generations of indigenous people from the Catawba Tribe. Later, settlers built everything from farms and home-sites to mills and churches on the land. Creating the lake meant moving cemeteries and flooding a historic battlefield.

With all of that land now flooded beneath the lake, there's plenty of room for history and legends. So let's take a closer look at some the of history buried deep beneath the murky surface of Lake Norman.

Lake Norman boating: There's history and legends beneath the waves

Ghost towns beneath Lake Norman

Among the ruins still hidden beneath the lake are an entire 1800s mill and the surrounding village.

The Long Island Mill and Mill Village were built in the 1800s and owned by Superior Yarn Mills. In the 1950s, the mill was closed due to the formation of Lake Norman. Around 50 families lived in the village, many of whom were born and raised in the Long Island community, according to the Davidson Archives, who have preserved photos and history on their website.

The village had its own post office, stores and homes. Some of the houses were moved, but many were demolished. The mill itself, which was a large brick building, was also demolished. However, the ruins and foundations are still beneath Lake Norman.

According to one local real estate website, "Only a few of the taller buildings were demolished because of the risk they may have posed to boats traveling on the lake, and a few standalone graves as well as entire cemeteries were relocated. Besides those few items moved or destroyed, everything else in the town remained as water began to flood the city."

The old Highway 150 bridge still partially stands

Today, thousands of vehicles drive over the new Highway 150 bridge, unaware that just 100 feet away the old bridge is crumbling just beneath the surface of Lake Norman. The new bridge is around 33 feet higher.

Photos from the flooding of Lake Norman show the old bridge bearings partially destroyed as the water rises up around them. The original bridge linked Catawba and Iredell counties, and the remnants are still standing beneath Lake Norman.

In Raleigh, the abandoned remains of Highway 98 run through the woods near Falls Lake – overgrown, but still visible – before vanishing into the lake. Similar roadways can be seen crumbling into Jordan Lake. These manmade lakes also hide remnants of old farm sites and homesteads beneath their surface.

Historic Revolutionary War battlefield beneath Lake Norman

The site of the Battle of Cowan’s Ford is also under the waters of Lake Norman.

The battle took place in 1781 when Lord Charles Cornwallis, in pursuit of American Patriot Nathanael Greene, engaged in a fight on the Catawba River.

A modern day map created by AmRevNC.com shows the locations where key events happened around the lake. Standing in the back right corner of the parking area by the transmission tower provides a Revolutionary-era view of where the American soldiers may have camped. A battle map shows the route British likely took across the river while American forces were still asleep.

The American soldiers lost their NC militia Commander General Williams Lee Davidson in the battle and withdrew. Davidson is the namesake of Davidson College, the town of Davidson, and Davidson County.

Normie: 'Loch Ness Monster' lurks beneath Lake Norman

Did you know North Carolina has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster? Over the years, hundreds of boaters have claimed to see 'The Lake Norman Monster,' otherwise known as Normie.

Normie has dozens of descriptions depending who claims to have seen him. Some claim his eyes glow in the dark. Some claim to have seen an enormous fin swimming towards them while they were in the water. One part of the story remains the same: Some kind of giant underwater creature has been living in Lake Norman for decades. National television crews have come to Lake Norman searching for Normie, and he even has his own website. Some say Normie is as large as a stretch limo.

There have even been sight-seeing cruises around the lake, allowing families and kids to search for Normie from the deck of a boat.

In an interview with WRAL's Tarheel Traveler several years ago, a fishing guide named Gus Gustafson had his own explanation for Normie, saying that back during the creation of the lake, "there were university biologists who got together and they were experimenting with genetically changing fish to allow them to grow big, but be tasty. They chose a Wyoming Buffalo Carp and crossed it with an Arkansas Blue Catfish."

Some believe one of those fish may have escaped into the lake and been growing endlessly ever sense.

However, the legend of a monster in the Catawba River dates back long before the river was dammed to create Lake Norman. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, the Catawba Nation had folklore of 'monstrously large snakes' and 'giant leech-like creatures' in the river centuries before legends of Normie began.

There are several other theories to explain the Lake Norman Monster phenomenon. Some believe the creature is none other than a catfish of gigantic proportions. Others think people are seeing a large fish called bowfin, alligators or possibly large salamanders known as hellbenders.

Lake Norman hides 1930s summer camp

Camp Fellowship opened in 1938 on the Catawba River and remained in use until the impending creation of Lake Norman in the late 1950s.

According to the Davidson Archives, who has photos of the camp itself, it was initially opened for children in nearby orphanages. However, by the 1940s, some churches had also begun using the camp.

An article from 1938 in the Statesville Daily Record detailed the Business and Professional Women's Club used the camp for a picnic. Articles from the 1950s show church groups using Camp Fellowship as a gathering place for overnight camping and luncheons.

Lake Norman crashed airplane. Image courtesy WCNC and Charlotte Fire Department.

Lake Norman airplane crash dates back to 1970s

Not everything beneath the surface of Lake Norman submerged in 1964. A decade after the creation of the lake, a plane sank in the summer of 1974.

The plane was discovered in 2013, when the Charlotte Fire Department said a dive team was doing practice drills when they noticed the submerged plane with their sonar equipment.

The plane is about 90 feet below the surface, and isn't visible. One family has said the plane could be theirs, recalling a tale of their own plane sinking in the 1970s on Lake Norman.

In more recent years, a car was also found submerged in Lake Norman – with human remains inside. The vehicle belonged to a woman who had been missing for 15 years.

A fisherman using sonar on their boat discovered the car underwater and tipped off law enforcement. Deputies with the Sherills Ford-Terrell Fire Rescue released a robot into the water to confirm the car was there.

Map details locations of hidden places beneath Lake Norman

With so many miles of NC covered by Lake Norman, there's an immense amount of history flooded beneath the lake. An interactive map created by the Davidson Archives shows locations of other historic sites beneath Lake Norman, including pioneer homes, plantation houses, camps, dams and bridges.

Other NC lakes with ghost towns or mysteries underneath them

  • Jordan Lake - Farms, railroad tracks, roads
  • Falls Lake - Highway 98, farms, moonshine stills
  • Fontana Lake - Ghost town of Judson, visible when lake levels lower
  • Belews Lake - Community of Egypt, NC
  • Kerr Lake - Train crash from early 1900s still underwater
  • Roanoke Rapids Lake - Town of Gaston

Podcast: Listen to lost mysteries beneath NC lakes

WRAL's Hidden Historian Heather Leah is a seventh-generation North Carolinian with a passion for preserving the state's culture and history. Listen as WRAL's Amanda Lamb and Heather Leah discuss mysteries and ghost towns hidden beneath North Carolina lakes in our latest podcast.