Skip Navigation
Tygart Dam
The Tygart Reservoir Dam, completed in 1938, proved to be a tremendous boon to the Grafton area. This towering pier house and overloof formerly housed the dam offices, which are now loacted at the adjacent visitor center. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Glory Days for Grafton

Building the Tygart Dam

By Barbara Smith

Sixty years old this year, the Tygart Reservoir Dam is one of the most expensive and most extensive construction projects ever undertaken in West Virginia.

Having lived his entire life in the shadow of the dam, 75- year-old Dick Leonard remembers that period well. His father, Arlie Leonard, built and ran an independent grocery store in downtown Grafton. Dick eventually worked there and later became owner of the popular Four Corners Restaurant which he ran from 1965 to 1985.

"There were some great times in Grafton," he recalls. "Before the initiation of the Tygart Dam project, most people were very poor. Those with railroad jobs were considered fortunate. They were well paid. In those days, in the ‘20's, Grafton was a big railroad center, and the population must have run 15 or 16,000. The glass plants were big business, too — Hazel Atlas which made jars and glasses, and Empress Glass, and Tygart Valley Glass Company, and Carr China which made tableware — plates and cups and so on.

"Then the Depression hit, and the whole country was in trouble. The future in Grafton looked grim. I remember playing with my sister in front of the grocery store. What we had to play with was a cast-iron dump truck that we could sit in and ride on. There was just no place to play except in front of my dad's grocery store. We lived behind the store. I also remember later playing football with a ball made of newspapers rolled up and fastened with rubber bands made from old tires."

In 1934, however, work began on the gigantic Tygart Dam, and life in Grafton changed dramatically.

You can read the rest of this article in the Winter 1998 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.