The little yellow house that sits along the edge of the lake overlooking Smith Mountain, where both the Blackwater and Roanoke rivers converge, is a relic of a bygone era. Today’s shoreline management plan would never allow a home to be placed so close to the water. But the Bernard house, built in 1965, just before the lake reached full pond, predates those rules. The structure originally began as a boathouse. Midway through its construction, Florine Bernard suggested to her husband, John, that the builder should put a cabin above it.
Long before that, the property was once part of a 1,200-acre cattle, corn, hay and tobacco farm — much of which now lies under water. It was established in the 1800s then bought by the Bernards from the Saunders family at auction in 1950. The couple sold a large portion to Appalachian Power to be flooded for the lake and more than 70 acres to developer Dave Wilson for what would become Bernard's Landing.
The couple retained the 10-acre point lot upon which their house was built, as well as a section that is still leased to the Virginia Inland Sailing Association for its clubhouse and marina. There also were several building lots on Tranquility Lane, which have since been sold.
While John died 32 years ago, his widow, Florine, died earlier this year at age 94. These days, the house and property are shared by the families of the couple’s three children: Ann Coffey, Flo Lena Harris and John Bernard III, as well as their six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
The house is small by today’s standards — just two bedrooms and a single bath above the original boathouse and a kitchen/living area that runs the length of the structure. The expansive view of the junction of the Roanoke and Blackwater rivers, with the whole of Smith Mountain beyond, is from the generous all-weather porch where two dining tables make it the best place to gather when families are enjoying time at the lake. While the boathouse underneath goes unused, a two-slip dock with sundeck built in the nearby cove is often the go-to spot for family members.
Ann Coffey remembers summers in the 1950s and early ’60s at the farm with her parents living in a trailer. Her dad, who retained a love of horses from his days serving in the U.S. Cavalry, kept the tradition alive — there were eight horses plus a riding ring on the property. A 10-foot by 12-foot concrete pad, just a few feet from the boathouse seawall, still marks where an early 1970s tornado swept the storage shed and six saddles into the lake while leaving the nearby house unharmed.
Coffey also remembers water skiing when the lake was still filling up.
“We'd ski the narrow channel between the trees, headed down toward the dam,” she recalled. “Once I decided to try dropping a ski, unannounced. I fell, but no one was paying attention. I remember floating for a long time toward the trees until the boat finally circled back. And, of course, there were no other boats out on the lake to notice.”
Coffey's daughter, Victoria Moore, recalls learning to ski when she was 4 years old. She often had cousins Kristin Plunkett and Suzanne Parker to ski with, and skiing three at the same time was always a treat. The girls also liked to play tricks on Moore's little brother, Jonathan.
“Back then, when trees were still sticking out of the lake, none of us could imagine how special the view would ultimately become,” Coffey said.
While Victoria Moore and husband Tommy still work full time — she works at Rocky Mount Health and Rehab and he works at Central Virginia Manufacturing (he also runs SML Wicked Striper guide service and is a captain for Sea Tow – SML) — they look forward to spending time at the lake house during the summer months with their children, Thomas Bruce and Sommar.
“This little house isn't fancy, but it holds lots of memories for our family,” Moore said. “Tommy and I look forward to making our own family memories here.”