Lake Shawnee at dark

Lake Shawnee operated as an amusement park in Mercer County, West Virginia from 1925 to 1966. Now, its tragic past has made it a draw for paranormal enthusiasts from across the globe.

The location of the park is also the site where Mercer County’s first white settlers, the Mitchell Clay family, made their home. Two of the Clay children, Bartley and Tabitha, were massacred by Native Americans in 1783.

Prior to the Clay settlement, the area was the site of a Native American village and burial site.

LASHMEET — One of Mercer County’s spookier addresses was visited recently by paranormal explorers in route to an old West Virginia sanitarium offering the prospect of scary and haunting encounters.

In the Travel Channel show “Destination Fear,” paranormal explorers Dakota Laden, his sister Chelsea Laden and their friend Tanner Wiseman go on cross-country road trips to America’s haunted abandoned buildings. The destinations are a surprise to everyone but Dakota, who plans the stops.

The team explores each location, checking for signs of paranormal activity. Then luck of the draw determines which one of them will spend the night.

The West Virginia episode “Sweet Springs Sanitarium” premiers 10 p.m. Saturday on the Travel Channel. While this show focuses on scary Sweet Springs experiences, it will also features the team’s detour to a familiar Mercer County location: the old Lake Shawnee Amusement Park.

Dakota and Chelsea Laden spoke Wednesday with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph about “Destination Fear” stopover at an amusement park with a haunting reputation. For Chelsea and Tanner, Lake Shawnee was a surprise.

“We don’t know anything about trip, we don’t know where we’re going,” she said. “Even these pit stops. There were so many things going through my mind.”

After driving along unfamiliar mountain roads, they arrived at Lake Shawnee. Chelsea said the old amusement park was a real surprise.

“Oh, my gosh. It’s super cool,” she stated. “I didn’t know the history yet.”

Chelsea said her idea of amusement parks featured bright lights at night and lots of activity. Lake Shawnee’s ghostly stillness was a stark contrast, setting a spooky tone.

Dakota Laden said he had planned the entire trip and picked Lake Shawnee as a stop on the way to Sweet Springs. 

“It was a big-time bucket list item,” he said. “We grew up in Minnesota and I had heard of Lake Shawnee, so I wanted to go.”

The “Destination Fear” team didn’t stay overnight at Lake Shawnee, but they decided to walk through the park at night. While they didn’t encounter any paranormal activity, they heard “tons of dogs” barking as they got closer to the Clay Family Cemetery. Dakota said the team was trying to be respectful of the Clay family.

“I would love to go back and actually spend the night there,” Chelsea said, adding, “We just didn’t give it the full experience, but I would love to go back there sometime at night and get the full experience.”

Dakota said they had some unsettling experiences at the Sweet Springs Sanitarium. They slept separately and alone during their stay, but their night was interrupted when Tanner, who was in the basement, heard multiple voices. Tanner called Dakota and Chelsea and they did a full sweep of the basement, but didn’t find anything.

“We all went back to our sleeping arrangements, but it kept getting worse,” Dakota recalled. Tanner was “scared so bad,” he left the basement.

“In short, really, we were convinced someone was breaking in,” Dakota said. “We couldn’t find any evidence of anybody breaking in or entering the property.”

The Sweet Springs Sanitarium proved to be one of the road trip’s scarier stops.

“Our encounter at Sweet Springs was maybe the creepiest thing that happened on the trip,” Dakota stated. “That place really shook us.”

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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