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Great Chestnut Lodge

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1941–1942, J. R. Strock

As with the New River Gorge Bridge, superlatives abound in describing this structure: the largest log building in the state, the largest chestnut structure, the greatest unobstructed enclosed space of any log structure. The foundation is built of rough fieldstone; the logs (all 534) were rough sawn, then adzed to a thickness of 8 feet to give a hand-hewn look and joined at the corners with simple saddle, or V, notching. Chestnut was easily available in the 1930s, as blight had recently deforested large stands of this valued wood.

The one-and-one-half-story lodge is cross shaped. The south-facing entrance pavilion contains a lobby with a fireplace, with openings on either leading into the larger assembly hall. Measuring 110 by 53 feet, the hall contains almost 6,000 square feet of unobstructed space. Although the Fink truss roofing system contrived by Strock, a civil engineer, was complex, he designed the trusses so that they could be easily fabricated and assembled on site. Behind the assembly hall is a 24-by-85-foot dining room. Its four rows of columns help support the dormitory space above. The importance of the camp, and especially the lodge, to those who attended Washington-Carver in its heyday can hardly be exaggerated. In the winter 1999 issue of Goldenseal, Norman Jordan quoted a camper who recalled: “The magnificent main lodge was like the Statue of Liberty for it represented the entrance to a free land. You could eat in the dining room, swim in the swimming pool. Jim Crow laws stopped at the gates, and that made it almost a holy place.”

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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