Summersville Lake Lighthouse – Mt Nebo, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Summersville Lake Lighthouse

Mt Nebo, West Virginia

A lighthouse on this West Virginia lake started as a joke, then the forces of nature helped make it a reality. 

Sponsored by West Virginia Department of Tourism
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A construction crew was installing wind turbines in Beech Ridge, a wind farm project in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, and Summersville Lake Retreat in neighboring Mount Nebo became the summer home for one of the crew members. The Lake Retreat staff would admire the massive steel towers, their blades stretching half a football field, as they drove by each day. What if, someone asked, what if one of those towers found its way to us? We’d plant it high in the mountains, nestled between the trees, and disguise it as a lighthouse arching over Summersville Lake. It was really just a joke, an off-hand comment. But that joke would become the origin story for the Summersville Lake Lighthouse.

As luck—and bad weather— would have it, one of the giant towers had slipped from its moorings, sending it rolling 75 feet down a hill. It wasn’t suitable for wind power anymore, but it was perfect for a lighthouse. After some wheeling and dealing from the Summersville Lake Retreat, they were now the proud owners of a 100-foot, nearly 72,000-pound tower. It would soon become the Summersville Lake Lighthouse, once the new owners figured out how to construct it.

With the help of two 50-ton cranes, the tower was hoisted onto a truck and moved to the retreat, but it would take a team to transform it into a lighthouse. Enlisting the help of students and instructors from both the Fayette Institute of Technology and the Nicholas County Career & Technical Center, plans were drawn up to design the lighthouse’s lamp room and a spiral staircase with four landings.

But what’s a lighthouse without a light? In another happy accident, it turned out that the local airfield had a beacon in storage. That beacon turned out to be a vintage 1941 model that can be seen from over 30 miles away. And though it’s not guiding sailors, the lighthouse is still doing what lighthouses do best; The airfield helped register the Lighthouse with the Federal Aviation Administration as a navigational aid.

The small joke became a huge monument on October 17, 2012, and the state’s only working lighthouse. It stands 104 feet tall and towers 2,164 feet above sea level. It weighs 77,000 pounds, and the surrounding area can be viewed from its 360-degree observation deck (after climbing the lighthouse’s 122 steps).

Know Before You Go

Open daily April through October and by reservation November through March. All tours are weather permitting.

This post is sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Tourism. Travel the open country roads and discover more of West Virginia’s most unique hidden gems, here.

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