Centennial Spotlight: Fonta Flora
The crystal blue waters of Lake James make it a destination for boaters from near and far, but many don’t realize that the lake is man-made. In 1923, the completion of three dams by Duke Energy formed Lake James as we know it today. As construction concluded and the waters began to rise, the myths of what lay submerged below the lake had just begun. Wild mysteries and crazy myths surround nearly all man-made lakes, and Lake James is no different. One of the most common history questions park staff gets involves the town of Fonta Flora, and whether or not it really is under the lake. The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. In this article we will explore what the town was, where it was and what happened to its people when the waters started to rise. From there, you can draw your own conclusions. So let’s explore what the town was. In order to begin, we have to take a step back in time. At the beginning of the 20th century, construction on the three dams that created Lake James hadn’t started, and the lake didn’t exist. There were rural towns scattered across North Carolina, which included one at the mouth of the Linville Gorge along the banks of the Linville River. This small farming community was called Fonta Flora. Old records show the population of the town in 1890 was 18 residents. That number peaked at around 100 during the early 1900s. While it had a small general store, post office, mill, ballfield, school, Methodist Church and several home sites, it was not a large town.
Being a farming community, Fonta Flora spread out over a wide area at the mouth of the Linville Gorge. The exact location of the community was at the base of the gorge where the Linville River flows into the lake. Referencing old postal maps, the present day Linville Access Area at the north end of the lake is near the center of where Fonta Flora was once located. Lake construction began in 1916 and took seven years to complete. As the water rose, it did flood a portion of the land that made up the Fonta Flora community, but it did not flood the whole community. During the construction, many of the homes and buildings were dismantled and moved. While there isn’t a whole town located under the lake, the original locations of the general store, post office, ballfield, livestock farm and several houses were flooded. While our imaginations lead us towards images of lost towns submerged beneath the surface of Lake James, the historical records don’t support those ideas.
While we celebrate 100 years of State Parks in North Carolina, it is important to celebrate the history that surrounds our state parks. The myths of hidden cities below the waters of Lake James will likely always survive. Nearly every man-made lake has these mysterious stories about what lies beneath. So remember Fonta Flora the next time you are on the lake, and try to imagine what it would have been like to live in the Linville River Valley before the lake was created.