A mountain was moved
about summersville Dam

Summersville Dam was built in the early 60’s and dedicated by President LB Johnson in 1965. It is the largest earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Summersville Dam was built with three project purposes, flood control, low water augmentation, and recreation in the lake. In 1988 Summersville Dam became the first facility to make down stream recreation a project purpose.

Before work could begin on the dam, the Gauley River had to be diverted. Between February 1960 and the spring of 1966, construction workers literally lifted the tops off mountains in the reservoir area and moved them into the valley where the Gauley River had flowed for thousands of years. The first job was to hollow out a diversion tunnel measuring 1,950 feet and 29 feet in diameter. The tunnel was cut into the right abutment of the mountain, supported by a steel skeleton, and then surrounded by cement. When completed, it became the temporary riverbed for the Gauley River.

In order to stabilize the Gauley River’s natural tendency to flood the lowlands in the area, two random-fill dikes were built to hold back the water. The next step was the construction of a temporary cofferdam- a small dam built upstream from the actual dam to hold water from the construction site. After the temporary cofferdam was washed out twice by high springs waters, a permanent cofferdam was built out of crushed rock in 1963. Designed to eventually be incorporated into the dam, the cofferdam was made from the same type of material that would be used in the outer fill layers of the dam. The cofferdam later became the left toe of the dam itself.

Workers then cut a trench into the solid rock to hold the clay core that is the heart of the dam. The trench reached from the side of one mountain to the other. It was 300 feet wide and ranged in depth from 5 to 50 feet. With the completion of the cofferdam and the trench, work was ready to begin on the dam fill. The dam will was placed from the center to the outside, starting with compressed clay, then finely crushed rock and sand, and ending with small ricks followed by boulders in the last layer. In the spring of 1965 the dam reached the tops of the two mountains on either side and was complete. It was 2,250 feet long, 385 feet high, 40 feet wide at the top and 1,950 feet wide at the base.

The final chapter was harnessing of the Gauley River, which had been flowing unrestricted through the diversion tunnel. The tunnel was cemented at one end to prevent the flow of water while a process, called, “trification” was performed at the downstream end. Its diameter was routed into a series of three outlet control pipes called conduits. The conduits are nine feet in diameter and equipped with Howell-Bunger valves. The series of valves now control the rate of flow from the dam to downstream areas. The project was first proposed in November 1937 at an estimated cost of $14,902,000. Work began in February 1960 and was completed in 1966 at a cost of 47 million for the construction alone.


  • Many small farms in the lowland area now rest under tons of water.

  • Nearly five miles of existing highway were lost underwater, along with two small structures; Brock’s Bridge & Hughes Bridge.

  • The narrow and crooked US 19 and WV 39 were replaced by two sections of highly improved roads and the bridges were replaced with prize-winning structures of concrete and steel.

  • The towns of Gad and Sparks were flooded.

  • Six family cemeteries had to be relocated. The project called for the reinterment of nearly 300 graves. Many dated back so far they were identified by no more than a rock or a decayed wooden marker.

During the dam’s construction, the Corp broke a long-standing tradition in naming Summersville Dam to avoid what might have been an offensive name to some. Usually the Corp names a project after the town nearest the construction site. The name is used throughout the construction period and becomes permanent unless the project is later named after a famous person. Summersville, however, was not the nearest town to the dam site. Gad was the closest community. In the Summersville Boat Dock Area for more than a hundred years, there existed a rural community called, “GAD.” After briefly considering the name, “Gad Dam,” it was determined the name “Summersville Dam” would be more acceptable.