As residents in other towns throughout Bedford County watch an increase in California, Ohio, New York and Texas license plates showing up, Normandy remains as if in a time capsule below the hills.
At around 150 acres, Normandy stretches just a little ways down Highway 269. The Duck River sits at its northern border, while George Dickel Distillery and Normandy Dam are its two best-known sites.
It’s home to 108 residents, according to 2020 Census data. That’s a decrease from 141 residents recorded in 2010 data.
Why the change?
“You’ve got basically two types of people here,” said Normandy Mayor Charles Whitaker. “The ones who have lived in Normandy most or all their life are in the greater Normandy area -some of them left and came back. And then you’ve got the folks like myself that found it a very attractive area...”
How Whitaker came to Normandy was by accident. Originally from Texas, Whitaker has lived in middle Tennessee since 1992. Working as an over-the-road commercial driver, he was sent down to the George Dickel Distillery to pick up a load one day.
“After getting lost in the woods and getting an 18-wheeler on roads I should not have been on, I finally found Normandy, and I finally found George Dickel,” he recalled.
Back home, he mentioned to his partner about checking out this quaint town that had a little café in its “downtown.”
They did exactly that, and the home that he now lives in for his retirement was on the market at the time.
Shortly after retiring, Whitaker became mayor in April 2018 after the incumbent mayor moved outside Normandy city limits. He practically became a “shoo-in,” being the only one on the ballot, and needed a total of 25 signatures from registered voters, in two weeks. He went door-to-door and did just that. The “rest is history,” he said. He said he’ll have lived in Normandy for about eight years come this winter.
So is the story of how the mayor ended up in Normandy. And now, Whitaker says, the goal of Normandy residents is to preserve and improve their little town, not necessarily grow it commercially.
“They don’t really want to see growth. They want to see preservation and improvement, but they are not very much interested in commercial growth,” Whitaker said.
For instance, people would like to see the café put back on the square. But something like a Dollar General, absolutely not, the mayor explained.
Preservation and improvement Mayor Whitaker described his responsibilities as “nebulous” but there’s still quite a few tangible things to do in Normandy.
For example, the street lighting there was “obsolete” back in 2018, he said. So when Duck River Electric Membership Corp. had a program to update to LED street lighting, the Town of Normandy took a part in it. And the community provided a positive response, Whitaker said.
They also had volunteers from town and from the subdivisions who wanted to beautify the park, which required water from the Bedford County Utility District. But the community had a mixed response on that, Whitaker said.
“Right now we’re having electricity put in the park where we can have seasonal lighting, like for Christmas,” Whitaker said. “We can also have food trucks there and have events.”
United Communications also put a tower in their park. Whitaker said most residents in Normandy are “not living in the electronic world of millennials,” but still need decent internet connection.
It will at least get them into the 20th century, not to mention 21st, Mayor Whitaker added jokingly. Mayor Whitaker also mentioned there’s much support for consolidating the (currently nonexistent) town hall, post office, and police station into the Schmiede building at the corner of Division Street.
But there is one improvement that has yet to be done, according to Whitaker.
“For Normandy to exist over the long term, we are going to have to annex some area and some people into the city limits,” he said.
Such annexation would require either a 100 percent buy-in from the residents in the area of annexation or a ballot initiative tied to a normal election, which would then pass through simple majority. Annexation, Mayor Whitaker explained, would provide city services to a greater number of residents in Normandy as well as increase a tax pool.
Still, the mayor is positive, saying that at some point they might have a turnaround with some people moving back in.
“It’s kind of nice that it’s country, but it’s also close to Tullahoma and not that far from Shelbyville, so everything you need is close by,” Whitaker said .