Summersville Dam is located on the Gauley River near the town of Summersville in Nicholas County, West Virginia. Summersville Lake is the largest lake in West Virginia at 2,790 acres with 60 miles of shoreline and controls 803 square miles of drainage area. A rock-fill type earth dam gives the impression that nature, not man, planned and placed it. The dam is 390 feet high and 2,280 feet long making it the second largest dam of this type in the eastern United States. The water is released through a 1,555-foot long, 29 foot diameter tunnel controlled at the lower end by three 9-foot diameter valves. In 2001 an 80 megawatt Hydropower plant was added to the below dam area.The Dam construction began in 1960 and was completed in 1966 at a cost of 48 million dollars. By the end of 1974, it had paid for itself by preventing flood damages in the Gauley and Kanawha river basins areas at almost 67 million dollars. Today, that figure has grown to over $743 million. Summerville Lake is a major recreation destination, attracting nearly 1 million visitors annually. The Lake offers many recreational opportunities including a campground, beach, picnic shelters, playgrounds, boat launch, marina, hiking trails, rock climbing, fishing and hunting opportunities and some of the most scenic views in the country.
History of the Summersville Dam
One of the most exciting and popular attractions in the Nicholas County, West Virginia area is the Summersville Dam. The Dam and Summersville Lake are visited by thousands of guests annually. There is a great deal of interest in the unique history surrounding the construction of the second largest rock fill dam in the eastern United States.
Construction of this dam was no easy task as the U.S. Corps of Engineers took on the challenge to harness the 105-mile-long mighty Gauley River. The river rises in eastern West Virginia in the western part of Pocahontas County. The water descents swiftly from the peaks of Gauley Mountain at an elevation of more than 4,000 feet above sea level to its junction with the New River at the Kanawha River. The river has spun its way in and around these steep Appalachian Mountains and deep winding valleys for hundreds of years. The Gauley is an integral part of mountain life – there is fear and respect for the river.
Before construction could begin on the dam, two well-known and much-loved farming communities, Gad and Sparks, had to be torn down and residents made to move from farms they had lived on for generations. Some of the elders never recovered from the shock of losing their farms. Six family graveyards had to be relocated.
The construction phase:
First a mountain had to be moved and replaced in the Gauley River. The Gauley River had to be harnessed before groundwork could begin. A diversion tunnel had to be constructed. Work began on both sides of mountain with equipment and had to meet in the middle to install a steel skeleton. A temporary cofferdam was constructed.
In the spring of 1962, crews began excavation in the riverbed. Earth and rock was scraped to the rock bed, about 2,000 feet. A trench was cut to hold the clay core --- the heart of the dam. Materials from the mountain tops were used at each abutment of the dam.
Dedication of Dam and Summersville Lake:
President Lyndon B. Johnson traveled to the small rural town of Summersville, West Virginia on September 3, 1966 to dedicate the Dam and Summersville Lake.
Flood of the Century:
It was reported by Senior Project Manager with the Huntington District of the Army Corps of Engineers during the early afternoon on Thursday, June 23, 2016 gates of the Summersville dam were shut to cut off water and store it. This action reduced flooding downstream to the dam in communities such as Gauley Bridge and points below including Charleston, West Virginia.
Interesting fact—Once the dam project was completed, the US Corps of Engineers needed to name the project. Tradition is to name a Dam after the town nearest the construction, which would have been Gad Dam, which is the village that was flooded at the opening of the reservoir. After consideration, it was decided to name the project Summersville Dam after the next nearest town.
You can visit us at the Summersville CVB Visitor's Center at 3 Armory Way in Summersville or call us at 304-872-3722 for more information. You can also download our 2021 VISITOR'S GUIDE here!