Lake James is a large reservoir in the mountains of Western North Carolina which straddles the border between Burke and McDowell Counties. It is named for tobacco tycoon and benefactor of Duke University, James Buchanan Duke. The lake lies behind a series of 4 earthen dams. It was created by Duke Power between 1916-1923 as a hydro-electric project. It still generates power today and is the uppermost lake on the Catawba River system.
Lake James contains 10.2 square miles (26 km2) of surface area and more than 150 miles (240 km) of shoreline. Housing development on the lake has been considerable since the 1980s, and is concentrated on its southern and eastern shores. Most of the non-developed area around Lake James is owned by Crescent Resources, LLC.
In 1999, several bald eagles were found nesting in trees on the northeastern shore of Lake James, stopping housing development in their vicinity. A small species of jellyfish also lives in its waters.
Lake James State Park is located on the lake’s southern shore. Crescent Resources worked with the State of North Carolina and Foothills Conservancy of NC in 2004 to expand the state park, adding 3,000 acres to the park’s original 605 acres (2.45 km2). This now represents North Carolina’s largest waterfront State Park.
In 1992 Lake James was a filming site for the Daniel Day-Lewis movie The Last of the Mohicans, where it doubled as Lake George, New York and a replica of Fort William Henry was constructed.
In the fall of 2006, the first of 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of new pathways on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT) was certified by the National Park Service. The trail, which received its historic designation from President Jimmy Carter in 1980, commemorates the march of the “Overmountain Men,” a patriot militia who defeated the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. The new section of the trail runs through the 1780 community, which is named after the year the militia marched through the Lake James area. Plans have been discussed to connect the OVNHT to the Mountains to the Sea Trail.
Unlike the smaller Lake Tahoma in Marion, Lake James allows jet skis, and encourages fishing and camping in designated areas.