In 1941, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) finished construction of the Thorpe Dam just outside of Glenville in southern Jackson County. While the dam was only intended to provide power for ALCOA’s aluminum factory, it had the secondary effect of creating the Thorpe Reservoir, which became commonly known as Lake Glenville. Almost 70 years later, Lake Glenville has become a popular stop-off for both families and college students.
Before being chartered in 1891, Glenville was known as the Hamburg Township. It was built on the site of an old fort by the same name that protected settlers from raids by Native Americans. Over time, the small settlement on the banks of the Tuckaseegee grew into a strong farming community.
All that changed in 1940, when demand for aircraft in WWII spurred aluminum production. ALCOA responded by constructing a new factory, and a dam near Glenville to power it. In 1941 the resulting Thorpe Reservoir filled much of the valley in which Glenville had resided.
Large parts of the town, including several cemeteries, a church, the post office, and a group of stores had to be moved. The fields were covered, with some of the hillsides becoming distinctive islands. In just 14 months, Glenville had gone from a farming community to lakefront property. The Thorpe Reservoir was soon given the unofficial moniker Lake Glenville.
Lake Glenville has several distinguishing features. It has the highest elevation of any lake east of the Mississippi: 3,542 feet. It has 26 miles of shoreline, and its deepest point is 125 feet. The area is also notable for three waterfalls that can be seen from the lake, and Thorpe Dam flooded a series of public islands that were once part of fields before the original town of Glenville.
Glenville now survives on tourism.
Donnie Shuey helps run the Signal Ridge Marina, a boat rental agency located on both Highway 107 and the shore of Lake Glenville. He says that the lake is a popular stop-off for tourists from Florida, Georgia, and the Charlotte area of North Carolina. Tourists are primarily interested in activities such as boating, kayaking, and fishing. The marina caters to these needs, renting boats, kayaks, and pontoons, selling bait and tackle, and servicing and storing private boats.
After a day on the lake, tourists can eat at Happ’s Place, the main diner in Glenville. Shuey admits that besides lake activities and the restaurant, there is little to do in town. He hints that there are more restaurants and activities to be found in Cashiers, which is only 5 miles north of the lake. Tourists and locals alike may enjoy an afternoon in nearby Highlands.
Lake Glenville’s closeness to Western Carolina University (only a 30 mile drive) makes it an ideal place for students to spend a day or an afternoon. The activities available on the lake, the town’s sense of history, and the proximity of other places such as Cashiers make the lake an ideal summer stop-off.
To reach Lake Glenville from WCU, take a left out of campus onto Hwy. 107 South.