> road trip, 2002 > west virginia > chester

Chester, West Virginia: Blue Lake ("Little Blue")
UPDATE October, 2014. Continued interest in the coal ash disposal at Little Blue: Watch "Little Blue - A Broken Promise, a 10+ minute documentary produced by Earthjustice. Look for some of my pictures at about the 1:35 point.

UPDATE July 14, 2014. Little Blue is gone!
Chester, West Virginia: Blue Lake

Little Blue Run in Chester West Virginia is gone

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes about Little Blue Run:

Dangerous disposal, by Alyson Walls


New photos from Little Blue Run:
Little Blue Run. November, 2003


Sheryll writes:
The lake is now a dismal grey with white sludge along the banks and there is quite an odor when it was hot out. You do not even have to have your car windows down to smell it............if you look out towards the middle you will see it is no longer a lake but is turning solid and there are vehicle tracks (probably their machinery or local quad owners and dirtbikes) all over the surface.......The solidity of it is creeping towards the banks and will probably all be solid before long. My theory is that the settlement on the bottom has absorbed the water and is now drying out........this can be seen on the WV can still see lake water if you look towards PA but how long it will be there I do not know..........


And here are the pictures Sheryll sent in. These were taken during October, 2003. The lake is obviously losing its blue color, and turning into white sludge.



Jennifer from Pennsylvania writes:
My husband and I were out driving around this Sunday afternoon and went to see the blue lake. We have seen it a couple of times already. To our amazement it is losing its blue color. It has some blue color still in it but not like your pictures that you posted or like we remember it being. It is starting to resemble an ordinary lake. Could you post this message to see if anyone knows why it is losing it's Neon Blue color?



Here are my original comments posted to this page at the end of the summer of 2002:
This was one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

Chester, WV, is known for its teapot. Right in the middle of the small town is what claims to be the world's largest teapot. If that was all Chester had to see, I wouldn't be writing about it.

If you drive up into the hills a bit, there is this strange lake. It's like a cross between the Bahamas and a nuclear winter. The water is crystal clear, but everything in the water is dead. Vegetation and insects and such are abundant beyond the shoreline, but nothing in the water is living.

I absent-mindedly forgot to note what road this was on, but it is in or just outside of Chester, somewhere off Route 30, and part of it borders a place called Conkle Farm.

The water smelled of something that I couldn't quite describe. It was a heavy salt smell, so heavy that it almost smelled like pure dirt.

The bottom of the lake is covered with white powdery-looking sediment.

I'm calling it Blue Lake, but I don't know that that is really the name of it, or if it even has a name.

When I was there I met 4 people from the area. One of them had driven by the night before. They had no idea what the story was, but one of them theorized that someone was pouring cobalt into the water.

The person who had seen the lake at night said that when the moon was out the lake glowed like dim neon.

It seemed evident that some kind of artificial process was at work. Much of the sand right along the waterline had turned to a sticky, thick sludge. I stepped in a hole full of this gunk, covering my shoe and getting it onto my skin. But within a few hours the sludge on my shoe had dried up completely, and I couldn't find a trace of it except for a white powder on the floor of my car.

Later that day I asked a local store owner if he knew anything about it. He said that this wasn't always a lake, and that a while back some company bought all the houses in this little valley, then filled the valley with water. They didn't tear down the houses, though. He said if you had an image sensor you could actually see the houses still standing under the water.

I actually thought the guy was repeating some exaggerated local lore, but the pictures seem to support some of what he said. The tall trees in the middle of the lake -- how did they get there? Wouldn't they have to have grown above water?


Now, here are just a few the excellent e-mails that were sent to me. Thank you to *everybody* who wrote in. Please contact me again with any further information, corrections, photos, or whatever.


Here is an aerial photo of the lake and surrounding area, illustrating the size of the lake:
Click here for aerial photos of Chester, West Virginia

Don't like black and white? Jeana sent me this link to a color picture of the Blue Lake. This picture was taken from the International Space Station:
Click here to see the picture.

Jeff writes:

I am a resident in the area of Chester, WV. Maybe I can clear up some of the mysteries of the lake. The Lake is full of "Fly Ash", a by-product of a coal fired power plant near Shippingport, Pa. The fly ash comes from scrubbers installed in the smoke stacks that exhaust smoke from coal fired boilers that produce steam to turn the generators.The scrubbers spray water into the stack, thus causing the ash to settle to the bottom, then after being proceesed, the fly ash, also known as "Slurry" is pumped to the lake via a pipeline. The Power Plant, known to some as "Penn Power" or The Bruce Mansfeild Plant had to clean up their emmisions, so back in the 70's the company bought up a large area of land bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This property incorperated what was known as a creek called "Little Blue Run" and the valley it ran through. The company filled in the valley with earth and stone making the dam for the lake. This is supposed to be the largest man made earthen dam in the world or at least was when it was constructed.The fly ash is almost pure white and the water was once clear. Yes at one time the lake was a very odd color of blue like the blue water one would see where white sandy beaches or coral reefs are. The water wouldn't sustaine life, (no algae,bugs, nothing). This I believe was mainly due to a very poor PH level due to coal ash. Light would reflect off the bottom causing the lake to appear to glow blue.

Lately the lake water level is being lowered a little to try to cover the surface with dirt and horse manure from local farms to try to get grass to grow and it is working a little. I've seen geese on the lake around some of the fingers around the lake. The lake doesn't look so blue near the road that passes near it, but it is still blue close to the dam, where the water is still deep.The trees in the lake were some that weren't cut down before the water level rose too high to get to them. Houses belonging to people that lived in the valley were mostly torn down. Several familes moved elsewhere after being bought out. A lot of nice farmland was lost to the lake over the years, including dairy farms, orchards and other nice lands. Sometimes progress "SUCKS", but you can't stop it. In a few years the lake will be full. I'm not sure what will be done with the land consumed by the lake. I've heard several stories. What will they do with the fly ash once the lake is full? Well, they'll send it down the street to "NGC", the gypsem plant that makes drywall board to make walls in your houses. How about that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shirley writes:

Hello-My name is Shirley. I found your web page by a old school mate. I was raised On Little Blue Road. I was raised in the house across the street from Conkles. My grandparents, Maurice & Dorothy Parker owned the hollow that ran from Ulbrights to what is now the road to US Route 30. I have many happy memories playing on my grandparents farm & it sickens me to see it totally under all that Flyash!!! I watched as a teen the huge earthmovers move the earth & build the dam. We were told back than that the flyash would, in time(about 20 years), harden to form a bottom to a lake that would be later used as a resort. As you can see nothing lives in the lake. Dravo began the project in I do believe in 1973. That is when they bought out a lot of my neighbors. I can remember going down Little Blue Road(that is the name we affectionally call the former Lawrenceville-Hookstown that ran from Chester to Hookstown)and seeing all the vacant houses that were once my neighbors. The Streets, The Cheuvronts, Mert Elliott, Ted Ulbright. There was also a horse farm on the same side of the street as the Cheuvront's. I just can not remember their names. I remember Conkle's & Elliott's farm stands. I used to catch the school bus down at Conkle's stand when I stayed at my grandparents. I could go on forever.

Steve writes:

The Blue Lake is a "settling pond" for fly ash from Bruce Mansfield Power Plant. The slurry from the scrubbers is pumped to the lake where it can settle out. It was originally said that the fly ash would form a concrete-like bottom to the lake. The lake is formed by a huge earth dam (I believe it is the largest earth dam east of the Mississippi). There used to be a REALLY NASTY odor to the lake. I think it was the rotting vegetation. That smell subsided, but the water then took on the blue color. I believe the blue is probably something that is added to control the odor, but I don't know for sure. Most of the area was timbered before the water level was raised, but apparently not all of it. There were no houses on the WV side of the lake, but were on the Pennsylvania side. I don't know if they were demolished or not. The road has been relocated twice since the dam was built. First, Little Blue Road was closed that went straight into Hookstown. A new road was built through the valley parallel to the one that's there now and it connected to Red Dog Road in Pennslvania. When the water level was raised further, the road was again relocated to the higher route it now takes and it no longer goes into PA. If you go to the East End of East Liverpool in the area called Little England, you can see the dam. Of course it can also been seen from the river near the state line.

Dennis writes:

Just some info on the lake. The Lake is nearing its full point and a process has been developed to process the Fly Ash into Synthic Gypsum and is now used to make Wallboard (Drywall) at a new plant owned by National Gypsum located in Shippingport, Pa. across the street from the Bruce mansfeild Power plant that produced the sludge pumped to the lake . The Flyash that once had to be disposed of in landfills and the lake now is made into millions of square feet of Wallboard each year and created a few hundreds jobs in the area.

National Gypsum Plant Wins Environmental Award
Greenworks TV: From Wet Scrubber To Dry Wall

(added 6/17/2003)

Blue 2?

There is another blue lake. Sonny sent a link to this picture, which shows a settling pond near a coal power plant in Williamsport, Maryland. Looks similar? It appears to be produced by fly ash, just like the lake at Little Blue. (added 6/17/2003)



Sharon writes:

The homes down the hollow were torn down; massive, heavy earthmoving equipment worked for I'd say at minimum a year to create a basin. There was blasting, hills were literally leveled off and the ground pushed up into the hollows to create a larger catch basin. So, seems the story you heard about the houses still being there and just covered is in error. I got this info from my sister (Conkle) who along with her husband used to regularly watch the progress of the excavation etc. The greatest portion of what is now Blue Lake covers property that was originally the Conkles.


The area, oddly enough, was known as "Blue" long before the valley was filled with blue water. A stream named Little Blue Run ran through the bottom of the valley:


Anonymous writes:

I grew up not far from the "lake".

When I was growing up it wasn't there - the area was farm land and apple orchards - the area was known as "Little Blue". The road was called Little Blue Road and ran from Chester - starting out as Lawrenceville Hill Road - to Hookstown PA. Conkle's farm was part of that area as was a farm named Hillyard's. The fly ash is a by product of the Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, PA. The company did buy up the property so they could build the lake to dump the ash from the plant. In order to make their lake, the company had to build another road that people could use to get back onto Route 30 outside of Chester.

I have seen spots of the "lake" from the road on visits back home, but I am very impressed by your photos.

The building of that lake had great impact of many families in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania.


Notice how the above correspondent put the word "lake" is in quotes, signifying that this is not a real lake, but a "Frankenlake"!


Anonymous writes:

The area was known as "Little Blue".

Lawrenceville Road cut through this area from Lawrenceville to Hookstown or Georgetown, I'm not sure of the town lines. A family friend had a cabin located in the woods in Little Blue, and I remember my uncle telling me that someone was taking his land. I spent many fun days at this little cabin in the woods when I was a kid.



Sharon writes again:

Here is an exercise in seeing if I can help you paint a mental picture of what used to be!!!

OK..if you were to stand on the road at the end of the lane going up into Conkle Farm property and stand so that you were facing the log home of my nephew, then what would be off to your right would have been the log road (I always called it Lawrenceville road). It swept down the hill following the curves of the original lay of the land and the old entrance to the Conkle farm was probably 1/3 mile or so from where the entrance is now. The new entrance was created for them when Penn Power bought their property for the lake thus cutting off access to the old lane. Anyhow, down the road as it once was lived the following familes: Parkers, Yulbrights, Chevraunts, Streets, Jordans and then on to Elliotts farm. Up a small lane near Mert's farm lived a black family named Crooms...I can recall Dan Crooms -- Terrific people and like most farm families always ready to help or be helped when problems arose. Down the road past Elliott's farm, heading toward Hookstown PA was a farm owned by the Glenns and then another owned by Soissons. This was very hilly country; I can recall cattle grazing on I believe it was Glenns; nothing but hills and valleys. All of which was pretty much relandscaped and leveled to create a basin effect.

One house, the one belonging to the Yulbrights still exists because it was moved out of the valley and back up to the current road area.

It was a beautiful little valley, tree lined almost right up to the roadside, blue birds (real ones, not just jays) and gold finches flitting all around etc. the stream, Little Blue, ran along the road. I was only in my teens but remember it for its beauty and tranquility. Too, it used to be the back way into Hookstown, PA...home of the old Melody Lane Skating rink.


Here are links to sites with more information about fly ash:


>> Click here for the first Blue Lake picture >>

Chester, WV, Pictures
Chester, WV. Blue Lake
Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake

Chester, WV. Blue Lake > road trip, 2002 > west virginia > chester