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Although not themselves reaching present West Virginia, glaciers of the Ice Age affected the area by repeatedly damming the ancestral Kanawha River system northwest of present Chillicothe, temporarily forming large lakes and creating new drainage patterns which persist to the present. The ancestral Kanawha River, known as the Teays River, followed the course of today’s New River from present North Carolina into West Virginia. It flowed westward from present Charleston into the present Ohio River at what is now Huntington. From there it followed the course of the present Ohio River to near Portsmouth, where it turned northwest and flowed diagonally northwestward across present Ohio into northern Indiana and central Illinois, eventually reaching the Mississippi Valley via the present Illinois River. The course of the modern Kanawha River formed when the Pocatalico River captured the Teays River at the present community of Scary, resulting in the abandonment of the Teays Valley.

Lake Tight, named for the geologist William G. Tight, was the lake formed when ice or glacial sediments blocked the Teays River system. The size of Lake Tight waxed and waned in response to changes in ice volume, and the lake completely ceased to exist at some times. Maximum lake size occurred during the first period of ponding with lake levels in excess of 900 feet above sea level. The impoundment near present Chillicothe backed the waters up across present southwestern Ohio to Huntington, then up the Teays Valley and the present Kanawha and New rivers as far as today’s Hawks Nest State Park. GIS mapping in 2018 estimated the greatest area of Lake Tight as over 10,000 square miles, comparable to present Lake Erie. With an average depth of 141 feet, the volume of Lake Tight was 268 cubic miles, 2.3 times greater than Erie. Surviving lake sediments exceed 100 feet in some places.

The presence of a magnetic polarity switch within the oldest terrace deposits indicates that Lake Tight existed initially between 730,000 and 900,000 years ago. Three lower terrace deposits suggest periods of late Illinoian and Wisconsin ponding as glacial sediment choked and dammed the Ohio River.

This Article was written by Bascombe M. Blake Jr.

Last Revised on December 31, 2018

Related Articles


James L. Erjavec. A New Map of Pleistocene Proglacial Lake Tight Based on GIS Modeling and Analysis. Ohio Journal of Science, OHIO J SCI 118(2):57-65. Ohio State University Libraries, December 2018.

Cite This Article

Blake Jr., Bascombe M. "Lake Tight." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 31 December 2018. Web. 20 May 2024.


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