By Jay Young

A couple weeks ago, West Virginia whitewater legend, Paul Breuer emailed me a handful of photographs. That’s not unusual, actually. Several times before, Paul has emailed me pics or dropped a flash drive on my desk. Most of the time those pics are sort of curious, but not of much historical value. This time… hoo boy… was it ever a different story.

Under the subject line, Vintage USACE Summersville Dam Photos, Paul’s accompanying note said simply, “Enjoy.”

I clicked into the pics, and as predicted, some weren’t all that unusual, but as I began to look closely, I realized that 3 of them depicted construction and testing of the Dam’s spillway. How many times had I driven through there on my way to or from Mason’s Branch or Wood’s Ferry and wondered what it must be like to see this thing in action. Built for the sole purpose of relieving flood water from the reservoir before it has a chance to overtop the Dam itself, it must be quite a sight. But to my knowledge, it has only happened once, during a US Army Corps overflow test shortly after the Dam proper was completed. (Stories conflict here. The overflow may have been accidental and not a test, though I have my doubts, since these photos came to me titled with the words, “overflow test.”)

Anyway, here it is—the only time in history that the Summersville Lake has ever over flowed. These are rarely seen and possibly never published photos.

Here in the first shot, construction of the spillway is nearly finished, circa 1966.

Summersville Dam Spillway 1


Second shot, an aerial view of the spillway overflowing the lake. Bear in mind, that what you are seeing is literally a section of the Gauley River, which, in the history of Earth, flowed only once.

Summersville Dam Spillway Test Aerial


And lastly, a close up of the spillway test, with a jeep for scale.

Summersville Dam Spillway Test Close Up