Please welcome guest blogger C.J. Pitzer. Pitzer, who recently graduated from West Virginia University with both a Bachelor Degree in Political Science and a Masters Degree in Business Administration, has recently begun researching the life of West Virginia towns that were submerged by the Tygart Lake Dam. He’s publishing his findings in a brand new blog: Towns of Tygart Lake.
Ever thought it could happen in your own back yard? Visualizing your home sinking down to the dark depths forever arouses nightmares and primal fears. And yet this scenario became a reality in 1938 for those living along the river a few miles south of Grafton, WV.
The Tygart Lake Dam was designed to provide flood protection for the Tygart River Valley as well as for the Monongahela and upper Ohio rivers. Although the benefits of the dam may be now be seen as immeasurable in terms of preventing the loss of lives and property, there were some negatives associated with its construction. One of which was the flooding of many small towns along the banks of the Tygart river.
The rising water forever changed the land as well as the lives of those who had to be relocated.
These towns may have been small and insignificant compared to today’s standards; however, to their residents they were home. The first of these towns was Yates, located near the modern day swimming area of Tygart Lake. Next heading up stream was Stonehouse approximately two coves down from Yates.
The third, located in modern day Hailslip Cove, was called Cecil and may have been the largest of four communities. Cecil as a whole may not have been swallowed up by the lake; however, it seemed to have disappeared from the maps after the forming of the lake. The fourth small town was referred to as Sandy and was located close to the lake’s head waters. It appears to have been settled around the county line dividing Taylor and Barbour counties.
In an effort to put a human face on the flooding of these four small communities I have attempted to find newspaper stories that discuss how people were affected by the building of the dam. One Cecil resident, a W. W. McDaniel, was lauded in the Grafton Sentinel for his poems ‘Where the Rhododendron Grows’ and ‘The Old Water Mill.’
His overall involvement in the community eventually led to his becoming known as the “Sage of Cecil.” For 56 years Mr. McDaniel lived in Cecil, tending to his farm, marrying, and raising his children. This all would change in 1936 when the federal government compelled Mr. McDaniel to leave his home behind as the waters began to rise. The “land he loved so well was relinquished with the deepest sorrow.” This is only one personal story related to the flooding of these towns and there are no doubt others just as dramatic.
Throughout history towns have been forgotten or abandoned, lost in the continuous march of time. These four towns suffered the same fate. Although they are gone in the physical sense the fact that they where once full of life is reason enough to remember them.