Betty Dotson-Lewis has written quite a few books before her latest, “Story of the Summersville Dam and The Mighty Gauley River in the Hills of West Virginia.” She’s had enough writing experience to know when “something came to me to write this book,” it was time to listen to the small voice within and get to her writing desk.
Betty Dotson-Lewis was raised in a WV coal mining town. She attended Berea College.
She gathered stories from descendants of workers on the dam, government officials involved, and families who’d been displaced by the dam’s construction. Dotson-Lewis was able to collect never before published family photos, take photos herself on site, and even mine unlikely sources, such as the Lyndon Johnson Library, for visuals.
“Still, I wondered, what is the purpose of this book? I continued on writing, rewriting, trying to make sense of what seemed like a somewhat bland topic—but of regional historic importance—and that was what I was after: capturing and documenting Appalachian history.”
Everyone knows dams exist to control flooding, but that seems like such an abstract idea on the day-to-day level. It doesn’t resonate emotionally.
“Then, on June 23, 2016 West Virginia was hit with the flood of the century, and we all saw first hand the purpose of Summersville Dam fulfilled. Had it not been for the Summersville Dam many more lives and possessions would have been lost.
“I then knew the purpose of my book.”
Here’s an excerpt from ‘Story of the Summersville Dam and The Mighty Gauley River in the Hills of West Virginia.’ In this segment, we meet Polina Forren and her husband Otto, lifelong residents of Sparks, WV, one of the towns submerged by the dam. Their daughter Nila watched her parents’ lives fall apart when they were forced to move from their beloved community.
After they moved permanently to the little house in Hookersville, WV, Polina asked her daughter Nila to take her back one last time before the road was torn up and impassable. She wanted to see her house and barn again. She wanted to look at her young peach tree to see if it were growing and check the apple tree up near the barn. She wanted to see the grape arbor. She wanted to look around.
Nila agreed to take her mom back once more.
“I packed sandwiches to eat and water to drink after we got there. We loaded into the car and began the journey. I drove down the main road to where Mary Sparks lived and had the post office in her house. The road was rough and hard to navigate.
“When we got there, the only thing left standing was the back wall of the well house where Mom strained the milk and made butter.
“The house, barn and woodshed were all gone. We walked out to the garden. We found a broken half- gallon jar. I got the food and drink out the of the car and set it on the half shelf left standing. Poor ole Mom looked like she was going to fall apart.
“She wanted to go see the young peach tree and apple tree by the barn. Everything was gone. I took the sandwiches out and gave her one. Tears came out of her eyes. She did not cry out. The tears just streamed down her face and into her sandwich. Her heart was broken. She was born and raised there.
“My sister and her family were displaced but they were younger and it didn’t affect them like it did Mom and Dad.
“Seeing Mom so torn up broke my heart. I told her we would stay as long as she wanted to stay.
“After the move to Hookersville, Dad’s health began failing and he had to have surgery. Before he went to the hospital he told my sister and I that we would need to help Mom with everything that was going on because of the move. He knew she was fragile. He was gentle like Mom.
“They didn’t stay at Hookersville very long even though Mom planted a little garden. She said that the neighbors didn’t visit. She was not satisfied.
“They moved to a little four room house in Zela. It had a living room, kitchen and two bedrooms. She liked it better there but developed a heart condition which could have been stress related.
“We took her to Montgomery to the hospital. They admitted her. Dad called her ‘that woman.’ His mind was failing.
“When we returned home without Mom, he looked up at me and started humming an old time song. “You girls are going to have to help me,” he said. He was a singer. The song was, ‘I am Just a Wayfaring Pilgrim.’ He was reliving his past.
“Dad’s mind had not been good since the first move. I brought Mom home from the hospital and got her in her bed in the bedroom where they slept. A rocking chair was at the far end of the bed and a straight back chair set at the head of the bed. My sister and I put Dad in the rocking chair after we got Mom in bed but he didn’t want to sit there. He wanted to sit in the chair at the head of the bed.
“When he finally looked down and realized it was Mom he leaned over, picked her up and wrapped her in both his arms and kissed her. He told us he must be catching a cold because his nose was running. He was crying.
“Mom lived one more year after Dad passed.”
‘Story of the Summersville Dam and The Mighty Gauley River in the Hills of West Virginia’ is self-published and printed in Lexington, KY.
To order book –
Contact: Betty Dotson-Lewis
149 Deer Crossing Lane
Summersville, WV 26651
cost of book: $20.00
+ $4.00 for mailing envelope and postage