History of Cheat Lake
George Washington's Crossing
The area of Cheat Lake was surveyed by a young George Washington in September 1784 where he envisioned a series of rivers and canals. He crossed the river in the same place many of us do today, near the Ice’s Ferry bridge. This spot is marked by a plaque on the rock cliffs at the end of the Ice’s Ferry bridge.
Cheat Mountain Iron Industry
In the early 1800’s the Cheat Mountain was the center of a growing iron industry that peaked from 1835 to 1848. On the land that is now Coopers Rock State Forest miners, iron workers, and loggers utilized the rich iron ore deposits and lush forest to help build an industry.
The Cheat River played in important part in supporting this industry because iron ore was often loaded onto boats near Quarry Run, floated to the Monongahela River and onto cities as far away as New Orleans. The iron ore was initially transported using canoes but with addition of a saw mill 30 x 14 foot boats were built for the transit. On the shores of the Cheat River, near the current WV Geological Survey building, was a bustling keg & nail factory that churned out products to be floated down river. The crews of the boats would often have to walk back through the mountains once their cargo was delivered.
Planning Cheat Lake
In 1910 planning and development began to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Cheat River to feed the growing need for electricity. The plans were to create 1,000 feet wide, 125 feet high dam that would form the 1,729 acre lake with 26 miles of shoreline. However, as World War I broke out in Europe the construction was halted until 1925. Then in 1926 water first flowed over the top of the dam. The lake was first officially named Lake Lynn after the West Penn Power president Albert M. Lynn. There was an official dedication ceremony September 14, 1927 where a bronze tablet was placed into a rock near the power station. The dam can produce 52 megawatts with its four 18,000 horsepower turbines.
Locals however refused to refer to the newly created lake as Lake Lynn and unofficially named it Cheat Lake. Then in 1976 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names listened to the public outcry and officially renamed it Cheat Lake.
In the early 1920’s West Penn Power built and operated vacation cottages that they rented to their employees. The area where the current Cheat Lake park sits was called West Penn Beach.
Minings Environmental Impact
At the turn of the century coal mining and industry upstream of Cheat Lake heavily contaminated and polluted the water. By the 1950’s most of the wildlife had been killed off and only 15 species of fish were left in the lake. For decades working and abandon mines spewed heavy metals, acids, and other pollutants into the water.
During the 1970’s whitewater enthusiast watched as the water and rocks began to turn a bright orange color. The area became known for the foul smell, murky water, and seemed to cause many ailments.
In 1994 there was a major mine blow out that released highly contaminated water into Muddy Creek that ultimately ended up 16 miles away in Cheat Lake . The contamination was so bad that is lowered the pH of the lake and resulted in another mass animal kill off.
Then in 1995 a second mine blowout occurred that further contaminated the waters. The water quality became so bad that the Cheat River was named one of the top 10 most endangered rivers by the conservation group American Rivers, Inc.
Fortunately for all of us who enjoy Cheat Lake, a concerned group banded together and formed the River Promise task force. Their mission was to clean up the waters, stop pollution and work to restore the marine ecosystem.
Online history of Cheat Lake has been hard to come by so please feel free to contact me with any contributions.