Smith Mountain Lake is western Virginia's biggest playground and Virginia's largest lake. The recreational opportunities are outstanding with boating and fishing being the most popular. The lake holds the state record for citation striped bass. Smith Mountain Lake encompasses over 40 miles, holds 20,000 acres of water, and is surrounded by 500 miles of shoreline. Full pond is 795 feet above sea level.
In comparison to other lakes, Smith Mountain is relatively new. Dam construction began in 1960. Like its older sister to the south, Claytor Lake in Pulaski, the lake was formed to dam a river and generate electrical power for Appalachian Power Company. The dam has a capability of producing 605,000 kilowatts.
It took six years and a crew of 200 to move 300,000 cubic yards of mountain forests to make way for the 175,000 cubic feet of concrete used to build the Smith Mountain Dam.
The first project was to build a 1,500 foot cable between the mountains in order to help move material back and forth. The cable hauled an estimated half million tons of building materials used to construct the dam. The dam walls were completed in September 1963 and the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers began filling Smith Mountain Lake. Capacity was reached on March 7, 1966 and the lake became the recreational capital of Southwest Virginia.
During construction, an excavation was performed by Smithsonian Institute archaeologists. They discovered the Algonquin Indians fished and hunted here many years ago. Today, a Visitor Center at the dam, located just off Va. 40 on Rt. 908, is full on hands-on exhibits for children and interesting audio-visuals about how the lake was formed. A scale model of the lake is also on display.
Located on Rt. 122, just minutes from the lake, is the popular historic attraction Booker T. Washington National Monument. Booker T. Washington was a famous African-American educator and statesman. There, a working farm interprets his daily chores with demonstrations. The plantation was reconstructed to represent buildings from the Burroughs tobacco farm.