The Summersville Dam is best known for recreation: it holds the 2,790-acre Summersville Lake– a prime spot for fishing, boating, rock climbing and scuba diving. It’s also responsible for Gauley Season, when water released during the lake’s fall draw-down creates spectacular Class IV and V whitewater on the Gauley River.
But many people may not know the Summersville Dam almost had a very different name.
Construction began on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam in 1960 and was completed in 1966. Measuring 390 feet high and 2,280 feet long, the dam’s purpose was to reduce flood damage, augment low water flow, provide recreational opportunities, and enable fish and wildlife management in the area around Nicholas County.
It created West Virginia’s largest lake, and one of its most popular travel destinations. But beneath its waters lies an Appalachian Atlantis: from the 1800s to 1960, the farming village of Gad existed where Summersville Lake is now. Gad was sold to build the dam, and all its residents moved away.
Traditionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers names its dams after the closest town. But officials balked at the eyebrow-raising name of “Gad Dam,” so they looked to the next-closest town of Summersville for its namesake.
The next time you visit Summersville Lake, think of Gad (parts of the roadway and foundations are still visible beneath the waters) and how we almost had the Gad Dam!