Dedication of Summersville Reservoir

Nicholas Chronicle
August 25, 1966

[Select articles from a special section that also appeared in the Richwood News Leader]

Developing Reservoir Offers 'Potential Unlimited'

The last boulder has been thrown on the dam, construction crews had moved on to other projects and Corps of Engineers men pulled up their roots in Summersville. After six years of the work, the dam was finished. That was in 1965.

Now in 1966, the area around the dam is still teeming with operations on a part of the project called Public Use Facilities. Other crews and Corps members have moved in to fill shoes of the "mountain moving" dam construction crews. The work being done in this phase of the project will amount to $998,759 and will bring the total expendatured [sic] on the operation to nearly $6 million.

Phase I and II of the public use facilities are more than three-fourths of the way completed and have added such attractions to Nicholas County as launching sites at Long Point, Battle Run and Salmon Run. When completed they will include an Overlook at the dam site just upstream from the right abutment, parking areas, comfort stations and a walk on the dam at the overlook; paved access roads to the downstream side of the dam on the right bank with parking areas for fishermen; parts of old Route 9 and six sections of road in the long Point area that will lead to the launching site.

Also included in Phase II is the $350,000 airport being built by M. I. Sowards Construction Co. The airport facilities include a 3,000-foot paved runway, parking area, hardsand lights and an access road.

Contracted from the airport and Phase I was M. I. Sowards Company, and Harwell Construction Co., Inc. was hired to complete facilities in Phase II at the dam site.

Bigger And Better Plans For Phase III

Developing the future recreational potential of Summersville Reservoir is a chief concern for the Corps of Engineers. Work is presently being done to provide public use facilities, but the government does not plan to stop with this. Plans for Phase III of the public use project have been recently released by the Huntington District Office of the Corps of Engineers.

Construction on Phase III facilities is scheduled to begin by late spring in 1967 and will add approximately $500,000 to total construction cost.

Included in this operation will be further work on all three launching sites.

At the Battle Run Site, work will be finished on a swimming beach that will have such added features as restrooms, showers, change shelters and a picnic area with parking facilities.

Long Point Camp Site is destined to receive its bulk of finishing touches in the Phase. New installations in this area will include restrooms, showers, four laundry buildings, and complete development of 124 camp sites, including spur roads, picnic tables, trash receptacles and tent pads at each site. Some sites will be developed for trailers. Restroom facilities will also be installed at the Long Point Launching ramp.

Picnic tables, cookers, trash receptacles, restroom facilities and parking space will be placed in the Salmon Run picnic area, and a roadside park on U. S. 19 will be built as part of the project.

By 1967, such facilities will offer one of the most outstanding tourist stops in West Virginia.

Worth Its Weight In Gold For Flood Control

Although the recreational opportunities of the reservoir lake are foremost in the minds of most Nicholas County residents, the real purpose of the dam is flood control.

Engineers estimated that the flood storage capacity at Summersville Reservoir is sufficient for extensive flood control along the Kanawha River, and for extended operation and storage, as a unit of the Ohio River Comprehensive Plan reservoir system, to reduce flood crests along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

According to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, a summary of the average annual flood control benefits attributable to the Summersville Reservoir project will exceed $3,790,000.

Conceived in Congress as a part of the Flood Control Act of 1938, the idea for such a dam was prompted by a long history of floods in Nicholas County and the Kanawha Valley.

The Kanawha Basin and its numerous tributaries, including Gauley River, have experienced many floods throughout the period of 1832 to the present time. Evidence of this has come from historic date from 1832 to 1870, and after then by systematic observation of river stages.

Before the first weather checking station was established in Holcomb in 1902, records of local flood activity were very meager. What information has been gathered concerning the years before this has come from the memory of old-timers or Nature's own weather checking process - water lines along river beds.

From these records, enough information has been compiled to give an account of the floods that plagued Gauley River since 1918. They have occurred during every month of the year and, although winter and spring floods are more frequent, summer floods are more severe as evidenced by the floods of September 1861 and July 1932.

The flood of September 1861 is the maximum flood on record for the Elk River and the third highest known on Gauley River. Highwater marks indicate that the flood waters reached 30.3 feet high and lasted for one day.

In May of 1889, another flood occurred on Gauley River. Such records as could be obtained indicate that a stage of 32 feet above low water was reached. This is about four inches above the river basin. Another flood in March 1913 reached three inches in excess of the river basin at Summersville.

Porbably [sic] the worst flood on record happened on March 13-14, in the year 1918. At this time crest stages of 32.6 feet were reached. Caused by unseasonal, warm weather and heavy rainfall, the flood lasted almost three days and caused high crests in the Ohio River ranging up to 6.9 feet above flood stage.

All of Nicholas County was affected by the storm and flood of 1954 which, unlike many others, also caused flood crests in Cherry River. States of 24.8 feet were reached on the night of July 18 and damages were felt over the county by the next morning.

Other storm and floods that have caused damage to the area surrounding Gauley River or the area which it empties into including those in July 1932, March 1936, January 1937, February 1939, June 1940, December 1942, January 1943, March 1945, February and April 1948, July 1954, and March 1955.

A Dam Is Born

If it really takes faith to move a mountain, someone on the Summersville Reservoir project certainly had quite a bit of it because that is exactly what happened at Summersville between February of 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 Gauley River had flowed for thousands of years.

The dam story is a long one that involves an entire town, the hundreds of construction men who built it and the thousands who will benefit from it for years to come.

Work began on the dam in 1937 on the floor of Congress. The project was introduced as a part of the comprehensive flood control plan for the Ohio River Basin and was approved by the Floor Control Act of June 28, 1938.

From that time until the present, the Corps of Engineers has been on the job in Nicholas County. It was their job to survey the area, take soil samples, keep records of weather, estimate property costs and prepare the ground for operation. The Corps drew up the plans and have seen that they were executed to the letter, right down to the building and maintenance of future recreational facilities.

Operations began in 1960, but before any work could begin on the dam, a great deal of ground work had to be completed. Gauley River had to be taken care of somehow and this was the first step to be considered.

In February, 1960, J. A. Jones Construction Company was contracted to build a 29-foot diversion tunnel through the mountain on the right abutment of the proposed dam site. This project was sub-contracted to Mountain State Construction Company and the Kenton Meadows Company.

Four access roads had to be cut into the side of the mountain in order to bring the heavy equipment that would be used to hollow out the 1,950-foot long tunnel. It was then that Summersville saw the first in a line of big machinery that would become a common sight for the next six years.

Equipment started at either side of the mountain to build the tunnel and, with expert engineering and a little wishing on the part of the workers, met in the center with only a deviation of a little less than an inch. They progressed through the 1,950-feet of solid rock by blasting a section and then installing a steel skeleton to support the mountain. This skeleton was later covered with cement and became the artificial riverbed for Gauley while work continued on the project.

It also takes patience to build a dam, and men found this to be true when there was much more work to be done after the diversion of the river. Engineers also had to consider what Gauley would do when backed up by the dam.

It would be necessary to take care of the river's natural tendency to flood the lowlands in the area. This called for the building of two random-fill dikes to hold back the waters.

Work began on the dikes in 1961 and, before they were completed, nearly three million cubic yards of rock had been used in their fill. This rock was taken from borrow areas near their construction sites.

The second dike, located at Kesslers Cross Lanes, is so large it was occasionally mistaken for the dam since it is as big as most smaller dams of its type in the eastern United States.

Next step was the construction of a temporary cofferdam, which is a small dam built upstream from the actual dam to hold water from the construction site. A temporary cofferdam was built in 1961 but was partially washed out twice by high spring waters. Finally in 1963, a permanent cofferdam was built out of crushed rock.

Designed to be eventually incorporated into the dam, the cofferdam was made from the same type material that would be used in the outer fill layers of the dam. It was built out of the cofferdam, which later became the left toe of the dam itself.

In the spring of 1962, crews from Western Construction moved in to begin working on what was beginning to seem like a dream. After all the preparation, work was ready to begin on the dam.

Excavation began that spring in the riverbed where the dam was to be lodged. Big machinery scraped muck and mud down to the rockbed for the fill width of the dam from toe to toe, which is about 2,000 feet. The farther the equipment dug, the smaller it appeared. By the time excavation was completed, the men and machinery, dwarfed by the magnitude of the cavity they prepared for the fill, had begun to look no larger than insects.

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 five to 50 feet.

Once the trence [sic], it had to be treated through a process called grouting. This consisted of drilling a series of small holes into the rock at intervals. These holes ranged up to 200 feet deep and between five and 20 feet apart. After the holes were drilled they were pumped full of a mixture of water and cement that filled the small crevices in the rock and would insure that no seepage could come under the dam.

All the while the grouting was being done, small underground streams were continually filling the area with water. Large pipes were brought in to carry this water out of the site and the streams were grouted shut.

With the completion of the cofferdam and the trench, work was ready to begin on the dam fill. The river bed upstream from the dam was widened and nearly 3,000 cubic yards of clay and crushed rock was taken from it. This was used for the fill that first year. Materials that were used later came from mountain tops at each abutment of the dam.

The dam fill was put in from the center to the outside. First the core was filled with the highly compressed clay and was built up about one foot higher than the rest of the fill. Finely crushed rock and sand was packed on either side of the clay core. The outer fill was then put in. It ranged from small rocks toward the inner part of the dam, to boulders in the last layer.

For the next two years the dam progressed slowly, but steadily, by building up from the core out, in the spring of 1963 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. Boasting a total fill of nearly 11 million cubic yards, the structure cost $47 million in construction alone. All that remained was the final harnessing of Gauley River, which had been flowing unrestricted through the diversion tunnel.

The 29-foot tunnel was cemented at one end to prevent the flow water while a process, called "trification," was being preformed [sic] at the downstream end. Its diameter was routed into a series of three outlet control pipes, called conduits, that are nine feet in diameter and equipped with Howell-Bunger valves. One 30-inch valve controlled sluice was also built for low flow control. This series of values now control the rate of flow from the dam to downstream areas.

The construction - only one chapter of the dam story - ended in 1964. But, the job of putting the structure to work is still in the process and promises tremendous opportunities for the future of Nicholas County.

Prize-Winning Bridges Span Reservoir Waters

Designers and planners of the Summersville Reservoir project aimed for excellence in construction of the dam proper. But this aim was also an integral part of the entire project. This is reflected in the two prize-winning bridges which were a part of highway relocation.

A Jury of Awards for the American Institute of Steel Construction considered the bridges outstanding examples of aesthetic design, in addition to their practical use, in a recent national competition.

Members of the jury found both bridges in the project worthy of Awards of Merit, given by the AISC to 10 bridges in the country which were selected as the most beautiful bridges opened to traffic in 1964.

Constructed as a part of the relocation of W. Va. 39, the structure (right) replacing Brocks Bridge crossing was presented one of two Awards of Merit given in the category of medium span, high clearance bridges.

It represents a total cost of $1,330,000 and almost two years of work by general contractors, Agnew-Joseph Company, Ralph Barns Paving, Inc., and L. S. Coleman Company. The bridge spans 1,230 feet and is 175 feet high.

One of the two awards presented for long span bridges was presented to the one (left) which is a part of U. S. 19. The $1,730,000 structure was begun in May, 1962, and opened to traffic in the summer of 1964. Having a span of 1,400 feet, it is 230[?] feet above the riverbed. General contractor for the project was Foster and Creighton Company, Nashville, Tenn.

Both bridges were designed by Richardson, Gordon and Associates for the U. S. Army Engineers in Pittsburgh, Pa. and are owned by the State Road Commission.

Such professional opinions as those from architects, artists and engineers were present in the final decision of the jury. It consisted of Milton Burner, partner, Ammas and Whitney, New York; Robert J. Hansen, professor of structural engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; William J. Hedley, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Allen McNab, director of administration of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Max O. Urbain, architect, from New York.

Since 1928, the AISC has been sponsoring this competition and awarding prizes to stimulate an interest in improved bridge design. Pictures of the prize winning bridges including the two from Nicholas County, appear in an annual book published by the company, entitled "Prize Winning Bridges."

Countryside Faced Change To Make Way For Dam

Landscape, so familiar to longtime residents of Nicholas County, underwent many drastic and permanent changes to make way for the Summersville Reservoir.

Many small farms in the lowland area, which were so typical of quaint, rural West Virginia, now rest under tons of water. They were bought by the government, cleared and finally flooded when reservoir waters were backed up. Other property that rested on higher ground was taken over to be used in the construction of access roads and the relocating of two highways.

Nearly five miles of existing highway were lost underwater, along with two small structures, Brocks Bridge and Hughes Bridge, which crossed Gauley River in her natural bed. The narrow and crooked U. S. 19 and W. Va. 39 were replaced by two sections of highly improved roads and the bridges which were built turned out to prize-winning structures of concrete and steel.

Parts of the old roads were salvaged for boat launching, since they lead directly into the lake. But the old bridges, and favored fishing spots yielded to the dam and a watery fate.

One of the most unusual alterations in the existing landscape was the relocating of six family cemeteries that would be covered by the reservoir. Work on this project called for the reinterment of nearly 300 graves. Many dated back so far they were identified by no more than a rock or decayed wooden marker.

Families had the choice of moving the bodies to their choice of private graveyards and placing them in the special reinterment spot prepared by the Corps of Engineers at Kessler Cross Lanes. Most of the bodies were placed in the new cemetery.

The men who worked on the project were careful to measure each cemetery and place the bodies and stones from each in the exact relative position in which they rested before relocation.

Tourists and sportsmen who are just passing through will never realize that there was ever any scenery near Summersville other than the 800-square mile lake which dominates that section of the county. And residents find it hard to remember.

Parks and Recreation