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Post Office Box 3
Ghent, West Virginia 25843

304-787-3663

 

"We have $625 in the bank, " Phil answered." How do you expect to build a dam with $625?" "Didn’t say we could.
" Where are you going to get the money?" " I don’t know, but we’ll get it."

"You men have a lot of guts," said the chairman. He rapped his gavel, and announced: "I hereby grant the Flat Top Lake Association a permanent permit to construct its dam." Six days after the permit was granted, equipment was moved to the dam site. All of it was rented at contractor’s rates through contractor Vecellio, who was serving as construction head without compensation.

Leo’s only 35, but he’s worked with heavy equipment since he was a boy helping his father, who founded the family construction firm of Vecellio - Grogan. A graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in World War II Leo helped construct the Burma Road.

Earth-moving equipment started to roll on the morning of July 8, and soon 35,000 cubic yards of muck was removed from the dam site. Then forms were built for the core, 14 tons of 5/8 inch reinforcing rod were put in place, and the concrete poured a portion at a time. As the core rose, the forms were removed and the earth-fill packed alongside. Other machines cut brush and cleared ground. Day by day the dam rose, and bets were placed on how long it would take to complete it.

The project hit a snag when the time came for obtaining a 36-inch pipe to run under the dam. Because of the Korean conflict, none could be ordered. Then Phil Wilson remembered that in 1921, when the nearby abandoned railroad was built, a 36-inch cast iron pipe was laid under it. If it was still there, it might do. Phil and a crew found it but it was under someone’s property. The owner agreed to its removal for a price and it was dug up from beneath 55 feet of earth. It was10 feet short. That problem was solved by installing the pipe in the dam anyway and building the remaining 10 feet of concrete.

While all this was going on, the association was confronted with financial problems. At one point, the whole project was in danger of falling through if directors couldn’t raise $140,000 immediately to satisfy creditors. Altogether, at this time, the association was in debt to the tune of $195,000.

A meeting of the entire membership, which by now had risen to 185, was called, and members were asked to donate a second $1000 for which they would receive a second parcel of land. Of the 185 present, 144 agreed, and this was enough to take care of immediate financial needs. Remaining debts eventually were paid out of funds received through acquisition of new members.

Also about this time, $38,000 was needed quickly to pick up the last remaining option standing in the project’s way. The deed belonged to the Price Estate, and had been in the family since the British Crown had made the original Virginia land grant. Among other complications, 52 powers of attorney were needed to convey the land to the association.

The day before the money was due, 15 board members faced the fact that their only course was to borrow it on a personal note, co-signed by all present. As they walked to the Beckley National Bank to arrange the loan, they ran into Darrell King, a photographer who was a member of the association but not a director at the time. He insisted on joining them.

The Bank made the loan, and subsequently renewed the note several times before it was paid off. The association repaid the co-signers eventually by charging off their assessments against the amounts owed.

The dam was completed on November 8, but water couldn’t be impounded because the 36-inch gate valve hadn’t arrived – again because of the Korean conflict. While waiting for it, work was started on installation of a 10-inch cast iron pipe around the lake for residential sewer purposes.

 The gate valve arrived in late February, 1951, and was set at once. For three days a huge bonfire was kept burning while the cement cured. Then the valve was closed, and water slowly began to fill behind the dam. As it did so, Leo Vecellio and Phil Wilson watched it apprehensively, for there was still the possibility that there might be fissures in the earth that wouldn’t be revealed until water pressure caused by the filling lake was applied. The two spent many hours searching the area for signs of fissures. By April1, 1951, the lake was full. There were no signs of leaks. George Chamber’s dream lake had become a reality.

The association now faced a problem of a different sort-how to devise an equitable plan for allocating lake - front lots to its members. It was resolved by having members pick numbers from a glass bowl in a series of drawings held in the Raleigh County Courthouse.

First, members drew for order. For instance, if a member drew a five, he’d be fifth in line to draw for his lot. Those who had two lots had to decide whether to take a double of two singles. If a double, they drew first, and only for odd-numbered lot to make their double lot. Members eligible for single lots drew the rest.

With the coming of summer, members wanted to develop their property, But there were 10 miles of rugged shoreline around the lake, and many of the lots were unreachable by car. So a lien on each lot was voted by the membership, and a red-dog (coal by product) road was built. After that the lake area became a beehive of activity, with many members picnicking as they cleared brush, built driveways and retaining walls and generally improved the area. Tents were pitched and trailers were towed to the lots. The dam’s gate valve was opened and the lake’s water level lowered so that docks could be built.

The first fall saw various species of ducks swarming to the lake, a welcome dividend that hadn’t been anticipated. Few members had ever done any duck hunting, but many bought decoys and shotguns and, when the season opened, started blasting away. Lots of ammunition was wasted as the neophyte gunners miscalculated the speed and range of the flying ducks, but today many of them are adept at it and have become enthusiastic hunters.

Duck hunting is the only sport other than fishing allowed on Flat Top Lake. To protect the wildlife, the association hired Fred Vines, a native of the area, as game warden and caretaker, with power to arrest. A program of predator control has been instituted, and now ma grouse, pheasants, squirrels, and rabbits may been seen in the refuge.

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