During the year 2000, were making our way around
Virginia, each issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the
heart of electric co-op country. On this years eighth stop, well be...
Down Home in Smith Mt. Lake by Lynda Imirie, Contributing Writer
PDF Format Visit this pristine, hospitable lake community and chances are youll want to stay
Its not hard to imagine what the first
settlers thought of the area when they arrived here in the early 1700s. The mountains,
rolling valleys, abundant wildlife, and overall serenity must have seemed like paradise.
No doubt thats why the Smith brothers, Daniel and Gideon the first recorded
pioneers in the area laid claim to the huge mountain which eventually bore their
Most agree, theres no better way to enjoy the lake waters
than cruising along its shoreline in a pontoon, bass boat, sailboat or jet ski.
Skirted by the Roanoke River, Smith Mountain towered 1,000 feet
above the countryside. Gradually, the river wore a narrow path in the gap of the mountain
about one mile long.
Two hundred years after those first settlers, a group of engineers
proposed damming the gap to build a hydroelectric plant. In 1924 the Staunton River Power
Company (SRPC) was formed and began buying land to build a power generating plant.
Ten years later, the Army
Corps of Engineers recommended Smith Mountain as one of a dozen proposed dam sites in the
United States. Eventually, the SRPC liquidated and the project was taken over by
Appalachian Power Company (now American Electric Power).
Construction began in 1960. Six years and $66 million dollars later, in March 1966, the
dam had been completed and the lake reached full pond.
Today, Smith Mountain Lake, 40 miles long, with 500 miles of shoreline, is one of the
biggest, cleanest, recreational lakes on the East Coast.
Before the Waters Flowed
The lake is wrapped in the arms of a
serene and peaceful countryside.
Gladys Meador Hoover grew up in the heart of Moneta, later to become the
northeast side of Smith Mountain Lake. Established in the 1880s around John Thaxtons
general store, Moneta acquired its first passenger railroad in 1909 and began to flourish.
Downtown Moneta had five to seven stores with a wooden sidewalk that led to the
local school. It was here that Howard Meador, Thaxtons nephew, built his home.
Hoover, the youngest of Meadors daughters, one of 11 children, remembers fondly the
sounds of the old saw mill and blacksmiths shop nearby.
In the early 1900s, local residents would
line up outside this tiny office waiting to see "Dr. Sam" Rucker.
The local physician, Dr. Sam Rucker, whose house and office were across and up
the street from the Meadors home, provided the townspeople with all their medical
care in the early 1900s.
"Dr. Sam practiced medicine amid squirts of tobacco juice and you paid what you
could," according to the late Kenneth Crouch, who wrote a history of the area for the
lakes 25th anniversary. Oftentimes, the revered doctor would make house calls, even
though those pot-holed, dirt-filled back roads were tough on his car. Frequently, he
sought out the mechanical services of Richard Saunders, who owned a garage and
grocery store nearby.
Left: Richard Saunders grew up in the area
and once knew every car on the road. If a stranger drove by, he said everyone would stop
and wonder, "Who could that be?"
Right: The front steps of
the Meador family home are quiet now, ever since the highway department built a bypass
over the railroad tracks. Sadly, most of the few remaining commercial businesses in
"downtown" Moneta have closed.
Saunders would alert the community when Dr. Sams car was on its last leg.
"The Ruritans would help raise money to buy Dr. Sam a new auto. Wed just ask
people to throw in (some money)," Saunders explained.
The Moneta Ruritan Club, chartered in 1954, was also instrumental in the development of
a Medical Center (after Dr. Sam retired), and establishing and building a fire department
for the community, Saunders, a Ruritan founding member recalled.
"I remember that preacher from Bethlehem Methodist Church," Saunders said.
"Hed come down, roll up his sleeves and get to working on building that new
The Visitors Center at the Smith
Mountain Dam offers a slide show detailing the construction and operation of the dam, a
three-dimensional terrain map, and a spectacular overlook of the dam, lake and mountain.
While there were several Baptist and Methodist churches in the area, those of the
Catholic faith met in private homes to celebrate Mass. When their numbers exceeded their
meeting space capacity in the late 1970s, the Catholics approached the Methodists at
Bethlehem and asked to use their sanctuary on Saturday evenings.
Years later, after Resurrection Catholic Church had been built, the Catholics were
approached by a fledgling church group of Lake residents looking for a temporary location
to hold an ecumenical service comprised of Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians.
According to Sister Betty Bagen, "We were privileged to be able to return
the hospitality shown to us by Bethlehem by sharing our facility with Trinity."
Eventually, in 1997, Trinity Ecumenical Parish built their own church building.
Preserving the Rural Flavor
Agriculture was still the biggest business in the area back when S. W. "Pete"
and Lula May Woodford established a poultry farm in 1923, just outside Moneta on Route
122. Their four boys helped in the family business.
In 1965, after his fathers death, Calvin Woodford bought the familys
poultry farm. His wife, Macklyn, and their five children were kept busy raising
28,000 laying hens and producing over 12,000 dozen eggs per week. Still, Calvin saw the
need to provide more services to the area, and expanded to include hardware and farm
What started as a poultry business in 1923,
Calvin Woodford (left) and his sons Stuart and Jimmy have expanded to meet the needs of
local farmers and lake residents.
As the lake residential areas began to grow, so did Calvins Moneta Farm
Service. Eventually the poultry operation was phased out to make way for new products now
in demand: lawn and garden supplies,nursery stock, irrigation systems, dock supplies,
lumber, power equipment and more.
In the early 1990s, the local Lions Club took a one-room schoolhouse used by
William Duncan not long after the Civil War and relocated it to Dudley Elementary
School. The Halesford Academy later called the Duncan School was completely
rebuilt and furnished as a living educational museum. Area schools today are invited to
send students back in time and re-live life in a one-room schoolhouse!
When Lynne Hines bought the Holland Duncan
House for her interior design business, she was intrigued by the history of the homestead.
Several modern-day retailers at the lake have helped preserve other significant
structures in the area. The Holland Duncan House, formerly the home of Asa Holland, who in
1848 hired Duncan to educate his children, was recently purchased and refurbished to
display an interior design service, with a complementary retail and gift shop.
Owner Lynne Hines, looking for a new location for Creative Design
Services/Lyndis, was thrilled with the opportunity to "rescue" the
historic home from possible demolition for commercial development.
"Weve been careful to preserve several artifacts weve uncovered while
renovating the house," Hines said. "We hope to have them on display along with a
history of the area and the house."
Preserving the Lake
The most aggressive advocates for maintaining the beauty and serenity of the lake
waters are the volunteer directors of the Smith Mountain Lake Association. Originally
founded in 1969 as a businessmans organization, the SMLA now includes property
owners and others with interest in the lake who are concerned with the environmental,
ecological and safety aspects of the lake and its waters.
Bordering three counties Pittsylvania, Franklin and Bedford the lake
began to grow slowly at first as local area residents looked for summer and retirement
homes. In a few short years, the word had begun to spread that Smith Mountain Lake was a
jewel in southwest Virginia.
It was while building a home at the lake that Jeanne Wagoner, searching for a
fundraising project for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, came up with the idea of
a home tour at Smith Mountain Lake.
Wagoner and her late husband, Joe, felt people would be interested in seeing the
variety, styles, decor and landscaping being used in the homes being built in the area.
The Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour
has drawn as many as 3,000 visitors in one year to see 10 grand and beautiful homes on the
lake. This years home tour will be October 6-8.
In 1991, while Jeanne coordinated the efforts to feature ten special homes on the
tour, Joe solicited sponsors to help underwrite the costs of the event. Friends and
neighbors 300 in all joined in the planning. A black-tie dinner was
organized to honor the homeowners and major sponsors of the tour, and an auction was added
as an additional source of funds for the tour.
Despite months of preparation, Jeanne was still uncertain the home tour would be a
It was. While its organizers had initially hoped to raise at least $10,000, the home
tour actually brought in just under $50,000!
In 1997, the home tour elected its own board of directors and became incorporated as
the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour, maintaining an affiliation with the National MS
Society, but extending the opportunity for other local charities to share in the proceeds.
As it celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2000, the SML Charity Home Tour is proud of
the fact that it has raised over $1.2 million for its charities.
Close to Paradise
A community that works together, plays together and prays together. You probably should
come see it, to believe it. Like many here now, chances are once you come visit Smith
Mountain Lake, youll want to stay forever!!
If You Go...
just a place to escape for the summer, Smith Mountain Lake offers year-round events for
its families, friends and visitors. Among the popular activities coming up this fall is
the SML Wine Festival, Sept. 23, featuring 16 wineries, tastings, food and live
The oldest church in the area, Morgans Baptist Church was
established in 1771.
Thousands come to the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour Oct.
6-8 (for information call 540-297-TOUR or visit their Web site at
www.roanoke.com/smlhometour). The following weekend, businesses around the lake celebrate
the Fall Festival with flea market sales, food, music, cloggers, tractor pulls,
local crafts and more. The SML Chamber of Commerce Local Golf Tournament is held at
The Westlake Country Club Oct. 23.
The years events informally end with a Christmas Boat Parade, Dec.
9, at the Virginia Dare Marina. But people enjoy the lake all year.
Throughout the season, fishing and boating fans are invited to enjoy special
events like the spring Mr. Bass Fishing Tournament, the SML/Tom Maynard Memorial
Poker Run in May, or the Annual Antique & Classic Boat Show & Rally
held in August.
Swimmers without a private dock flock to the beach at the Smith Mountain Lake
State Park. Opened in 1983, the park includes 1,500 acres of protected woodlands along
with 16 miles of shoreline. The park offers miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, wooded
campsites, rental cabins, guided canoe trips and special programs just for kids.
Five major golf courses are located in the
Smith Mountain Lake area.
Five major golf courses are located here, public and private. Most include
scenic views of the lake and mountains, said by some to be a "serious"
distraction, but a handicap everyone enjoys. In addition to the tournament in the fall, the
SML Corporate Cup Golf Tournament at the Waterfront Country Club is held in the
spring. Junior golf tournaments are also offered for younger players. For those with a
"smaller" passion for golf, theres the delightful Harbortown Miniature
Golf course, built over the water at Bridgewater Plaza at the Halesford Bridge.
Landlubbers who enjoy historical sites will want to visit the Booker T.
Washington National Monument, a reconstructed farm from the 1800s with live animals,
craft demonstrations, self-guided and ranger-led tours. Nearby Explore Park, in
Roanoke, offers a similar step back in time to those early settlement days, as does Poplar
Forest, Thomas Jeffersons summer home, just outside of Lynchburg. A bit of more
recent history is recognized at the newly opened D-Day War Memorial in Bedford,
just 25 miles north of the lake.
If shopping is your favorite pastime, youll find an abundance of antique
shops, boutiques, gift shops and more in the mini-malls around the lake. A visit to the
internationally known Emerson Creek Pottery factory and outlet store is a must.
For information on any/all of these events, activities or overnight
accommodations, contact the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce/Partnership at