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Photos: Building Smith Mountain Lake, a look back

Photos: Building Smith Mountain Lake, a look back

Fifty-four years ago, Smith Mountain Lake reached “full pond” for the first time – that’s 795 feet just below the spillway at the Smith Mountain dam, a level officially recorded on March 7, 1966. It was the culmination of a pump-storage hydroelectric project begun in 1960 that tamed the Roanoke River and resulted in two lakes – Smith Mountain and its little sister, Leesville Lake — and two dams. The project ultimately flooded thousands of acres, mostly rural farmland, and involved hundreds of workers to accomplish an engineering feat whose dam centerpiece towers 225 feet and is wedged into the gorge of its namesake mountain.

MORE ARCHIVE PHOTOS: 1920s1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s

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The Smith Mountain Lake reservoir reached full pond — 795 feet above sea level — 50 years ago Monday. The project to create the lake and its little sister, Leesville Lake, covered tens of thousands of acres to tame the flood-prone Roanoke River.

Crews working at Smith Mountain Dam last week were given the opportunity to view a part of the structure that few have seen in its 50-year history. Divers explored the length of the dam as far down as the lake floor during annual inspections performed by Appalachian Power.

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