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Post Office Box 3
Ghent, West Virginia 25843

304-787-3663

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Figure 1: Setting fire to a $38,000 note that saw the project through dark days are,
from left, Floyd Sayer, Harry Anderson, Dr. J. G. Anderson, M. W. Powers,
George Chambers, (the lake's moving spirit), Leo Vercellio, and Phil Wilson.

They Made a Lake
A place to fish on top of a mountain?
it was one man’s dream,
but 288 made it come true.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

By Charles J. Vacanti

George Chambers and I had just finished drinking our second cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. It was Brooks Adair, principal of the Rock Creek Elementary School, who’s perhaps better known as "Abe Lincoln of Flat Top Lake." If he had a beard you’d think he was Lincoln himself. Brooks is considered the lake’s best fisherman, and was to be my guide.

George had raved to me about Flat Top’s fishing, claiming there wasn’t a better lake anywhere for man-size bass, walleyes, and pan fish. Their vitality was due to the cold mountain water, he said, and promised that once I fished there anywhere else would seem second-rate.

George wished us luck as we drove off in Brooks’ car, and headed out U. S. Routes 19 and 21, our destination beautiful Flat Top Lake on the summit of Flat Top Mountain, 12 miles southeast of Beckley, West Virginia – George’s home town.

Majestic mountain tips seemingly touched the shy. Rhododendrons and azaleas perfumed the morning air, and flowering shrubs lay like blankets on the mountain slopes. Brooks’ foot pressed heavier on the accelerator as the car strained against the grade. As we climbed over a rise, he turned into a drive way where a large sign backed by thousands of newly planted pines announced Flat Top Lake.

Brooks made a Z maneuver and headed down a sharp incline that seemed to lead straight into the water. Involuntarily I gasped, then I saw that the road crossed a dam. We stopped on top of the structure and climbed out for a better look.

"That’s Flat Top Mountain forming the backdrop," Brooks said, waving a hand. "It’s only 300 feet above the lake, which is 2,900 feet above sea level – the highest lake in West Virginia."

So this was Flat Top Lake, I thought, the beautiful body of water stuck high in the Appalachians by a few hundred dedicated citizens who felt that conservation and recreation didn’t necessarily have to be a charge of the state, but could be provided by the people themselves if they card enough. These weren’t rich people either; just ordinary citizens living in and around Beckley, a town of some 20,000 nestled in the mountains. But they had tremendous faith in themselves and their ability to do what they set out to do. And among them was a remarkable man named George Chambers, whose idea the lake was.

Flat Top Lake is not only the highest but, with its 230 acres of water; it is the largest lake in West Virginia. It has about 10 miles of irregular shoreline, and is shaped roughly like a stubby Y with the dam on

which Brooks and I were now standing forming the base. The land slopes gently to the water, and homes dot the shores. We watched a flight of low - flying ducks settle on the misty water, then disappear.

We’d arranged to meet George Chambers at his boathouse. We ate lunch, I began to learn

 something of Flat Top Lake and George Chambers, the lean, bespectacled, ex-high school principal who conceived the idea for the lake and then talked 185 men into putting up $185,000 to get it under way – with no more solid collateral than his promise that there would be a lake. To show how he felt about it, he paid $2,200 for a boat to put on the lake, though at the time there wasn’t enough water in all of Raleigh County to float a skiff.

And to the astonishment of those who scoffed, the lake became a reality 2 years almost to the day from the time George first had the idea. What was once nearly impenetrable underbrush, swamp, and meadowland had been transformed into a spot that former Gov. Okey L. Patterson was to refer to as "perfect for outdoor sportsmen."

The idea was conceived one weekend in April, 1949, when he decided to try his luck at Norris Dam in Tennessee. On the 270 mile trip home he wondered whether it would be possible for the people in his area to make a lake of their own that would provide good fishing and a variety of water sports.

He talked it over with his weekend companions, the late Dr. Robert Chambers, his brother, and businessman John Harvey and Ted Carney of Petersburg, W V. "I made a vow," George told me "that I’d find a site for a lake within the year. Luckily, as a salesman for the Ashland Oil and Refining Company, I visit many surrounding strip mines, so I had ample opportunity to look over many possible sites.

Flat Top Lake Original License Plate

Click plate for full size view

 


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Post Office Box 3
Ghent, West Virginia 25843

304-787-3663
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