A Bird’s-Eye View of the Mountain State

March 3, 2013

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A Bird’s-Eye View of the Mountain State

By Marianne Taylor

West Virginia now has a 104-foot birthday candle in Nicholas County, which will be lit for the first time on June 20, 2013, in commemoration of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial. This birthday candle is actually a 77,000-pound lighthouse overlooking a corner of Summersville Lake. Drivers on Route 19 can now see the lighthouse and are amazed—after all, West Virginia is the Mountain State.

Donna and Steve Keblesh, owners of Summersville Lake Retreat, the home of this mystifying attraction, had a dream for many years of having some type of tower on their property. It just so happened that in 2009 a wind turbine tower fell loose from the truck carrying it to the Beech Ridge Wind Farm in Greenbrier County and rolled down a hill near the retreat. The fall caused some damage, making it unsuitable for wind production but perfect for the tower that would make the Kebleshes’ dream a reality.

The Kebleshes purchased the damaged wind turbine and arranged for it to be brought to its new home at Summersville Lake Retreat. The hard work then began. How could this turbine be made into a lighthouse shining over Summersville Lake, the largest clearwater lake in the state?

Recycling and imagination led the Kebleshes, engineers, the Fayette Institute of Technology and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center to design sketches to recycle this wind tower into a lighthouse.

Summersville Lake Retreat then became a unique outdoor classroom for the students of the Fayette Institute of Technology and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center. The students began working on constructing the steps and landings leading to the gallery deck followed by a second tier lamp room. Several of the students even worked over the summer under the direction of local welders Gary Martin and Nick Siebert. This project allowed the students to use their skills to build something in their community that will be an attraction for many generations to come.

The lighthouse project fundraiser was developed to help offset the cost of the steel needed for the students to complete their work. Plaques for the steps and landings were sold, and businesses contributed services, materials and equipment.

The Kebleshes then met their next obstacle—finding a beacon for the top. Mary and Jerry Rader of Rader Aviation donated an old Westinghouse rotating beacon to the project. The beacon needed a full restoration, which was done by master electrician Ed Wood. He was able to convert a 1,000-watt halide incandescent bulb system into a 400-watt multivapor system that will cast a beam of light that can be seen from 30 miles away.

On October 20, 2012, the Summersville Lake Retreat Lighthouse was erected. It stands its proposed 104 feet tall and is 2,164 feet above sea level. It has a base diameter of 12 feet receding to eight feet at the top. There are 122 steps with four landings that lead to a 360-degree gallery deck where visitors will have the best and most breathtaking views of Summersville Lake and the Gauley River National Recreational Area. The Kebleshes are planning to build a picnic pavilion next, followed by a visitors’ center and gift shop.

Summersville Lake Retreat Lighthouse is now listed in “The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses.” The lighthouse will be lit for the first time on June 20 in commemoration of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial. The festivities will begin at 4 p.m. with lighthouse tours. There will also be food and beverage vendors, and prints of the lighthouse will be available for purchase and will be signed by the artists. The lighting ceremony will begin at 7 p.m.

This is a unique architectural structure in a very unusual location and offers a bird’s-eye view of Summersville Lake and its beautiful surroundings. It will allow visitors to appreciate the seasonal changes of the surrounding mountainous landscape and foliage. After all, Summersville is always in season.

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