The culmination of a project conceived years earlier, this dam impounds a 9,000-acre lake, the state's second largest. As originally planned, the dam was intended to aid in flood control in the New and Kanawha River valleys and to generate hydroelectric power that could be sold to liquidate the cost of construction. The project was only one-third complete in December 1943, when the demands of World War II caused work to be suspended. Construction resumed in January 1946 and was completed on December 31, 1948.
The dam, 165 feet high and 2,061.5 feet long, contains six penstocks, through which water was to pass to a powerhouse. Although the penstocks were part of the original construction, they were sealed with bulkheads, making the reservoir's use solely for flood control, not for hydroelectric power. This change in the original concept also meant that the reservoir would normally not be subject to extreme fluctuations, thus providing a stable water surface for recreation. The meandering surface of the lake extends twenty-five miles, into neighboring Giles County, Virginia. Although the dam is built on the New River, it is named after a tributary, the Bluestone, which the reservoir also inundates. Bluestone State Park, established in the 1950s, borders the lake.