Lake Chaweva is a small jewel, a half-hidden refuge 15 minutes from the heart of Charleston, the capital of West Virginia.
Amid subdivisions and freeways, the private lake is secluded from the nearby bustle. It's a woodsy retreat where children romp at the beach, anglers fish from docks, sailboats and canoes glide in summer, ice skaters glide in winter, hikers explore hill trails, and residents enjoy deer, squirrels, geese, herons and even snapper turtles.
Lake Chaweva wasn't always surrounded by urban congestion. When it began in the 1930s, the region was isolated farmland linked to Charleston by gravel roads. The lake's creator was a fountain pen salesman named Ed Killen who envisioned a lovely enclave for summer camps. "I had a Parker fountain pen, $15 in my pocket, and an idea," he said.
Killen coined the lake's Indian-sounding name from the address: CHArleston, WEst VirginiA. He acquired two partners and they spent $60,000 buying a mile-long farm valley, building a dam, and bulldozing a road around the 42-acre lake. They sold lots for camps -- but, during the hard times of the Depression, few families could afford summer homes. Progress was slow.
By 1937, around 50 camps had been created, and the development was turned into a member-owned club. Ever since, it has been operated by volunteer lot-owners. Over the years, they built a gatehouse, clubhouse, tennis courts, ballfield, picnic shelters, bathhouse and other facilities.
Slowly, Charleston suburbs spread westward to the lake community. Modern utilities and conveniences arrived. Many rustic camps were rebuilt into year-round homes. Interstate Highway 64 was constructed, and the surrounding suburb of Cross Lanes swelled to 15,000 population. Lake Chaweva remained a park-like sanctuary.
A setback happened in 1997 when state inspectors condemned the dam and ordered the lake drained -- a decision supported by the lake's engineer. Emptying the lake caused landslides. But lake directors sued the state and their own engineer, and proved that the action had been needless. They won $1.5 million, rebuilt the dam, repaired the landslides, and restored Lake Chaweva to its former beauty.
Today, the lake club has about 150 member families, more than half living in permanent homes near the water, and the rest using their campsites for intermittent visits. Close to nature, they enjoy an outdoor sanctuary not available in conventional residential sectors.