Smith Mountain Lake's 50th Anniversary Part 1: The Business Boom

    Smith Mountain Lake, VA - The Smith Mountain Lake area, with its beauty, shops, festivals, and water sports, is one of the more popular vacation spots in the Mid-Atlantic.

    Tourists flock to the lake to take in all 500 miles of shoreline.

    There was a time, however, when the lake was largely nothing more than farmland.

    The transformation into the water paradise took an awful lot of work and vision.

    Fifty years ago, in 1963, the Smith Mountain Lake Dam was completed, with river water flooding land that would forever become part of the landscape.

    While some of the state's main tourist attractions have always been around, Smith Mountain Lake has very humble beginnings.

    You might say Smith Mountain Lake started off with a bang 50 years ago. Appalachian Power workers used dynamite to blow away large chunks of land, to make way for the dam.

    "This was farmland, you were a farmer, you were maybe a factory worker, or a small individual business," Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Vicki Gardner said.

    The enormous project would take years to complete. The dam was finished in 1963 and the Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers filled the lake up in 1966.

    "You can find old house foundations, you can find sunken boats, so there's a lot of stuff under the water here at Smith Mountain Lake that was just left here once they impounded the water," explained fisherman Kevin Tosh from Rocky Mount.

    J.D. Abshire was born and raised in Franklin County. Like many, he remembers the old Route 122 bridge that connected Franklin and Bedford Counties.

    "I had heard about the old bridge, several people had asked me about it, did I know anything about it?" Abshire said.

    Until recently, Appalachian Power didn't have records of the bridge being underwater or being destroyed.

    Lowrance Technologies, a leader in underwater sonar used by professional fishermen, chose Abshire out of everyone in the world to beta test their latest High Definition sonar.

    Abshire will tell you he's no professional fisherman. Abshire has been a licensed Realtor for 27 years now and still practices. Still, he wasted no time testing out the technology.

    "You could see the outline of the river bed, Abshire said. "Then, I began to see structure, and I thought 'WOW'. You know, I got cold chills."

    On his display, a crystal clear image of the old bridge, still intact after 50 years, and just like the image from the old photos.

    Now Vicki Gardner, with the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, relates the bang of construction and blasting from 50 years ago, to the booming of year-round business.

    There seems to be no stopping the growth.

    "When I first came to the Chamber of Commerce, we had about 180 members. We have taken that to 700 members and growing," Gardner said.

    The lake has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in our region.

    Franklin County native Kevin Tosh loves to fish Smith Mountain Lake.

    "Smith Mountain Lake is my home lake and it's just something I've always enjoyed doing since I was little," Tosh said.

    As for business, Roy Enslow of Bridgewater Marina has watched it grow for 25 years now.

    "As the businesses came, the people stayed, and had the amenities they were looking for," Enslow said.

    On the Bedford County side of the lake, one couple took it upon themselves to revive Moneta, a lake town that was all but cut-off from the main flow of traffic when the 122 bypass was built years ago.

    "We've been really lucky, because even with a down economy, we've been holding our own or growing," Michelle Aznavorian said.

    "As people are finding SML, there really is a reason to spend a little time here or ultimately to live here and I think that's kind of the dream out there for so many people; to find the perfect place to settle in. And I think we have it right here," Gardner said.

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