The Occoneechee Indians once lived in the Kerr Lake area until they were dispersed by Nathanial Bacon in 1676. Until that date, the Roanoke River was the main transportation and supply route for both Native Americans and early settlers. Constant, regular flooding of the river provided rich and productive farmland that sustained the area for generations.
The development of cities and homes along the river and the increased demand for flood control and electricity led to the construction of the John H. Kerr Reservoir, named after the North Carolina congressman instrumental in the reservoir's development. Construction of this reservoir that straddles Virginia and North Carolina began in 1946 and was completed in 1953.
The Kerr Reservoir Commission was then created to govern the North Carolina parks bordering the lake. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation eventually took control of the seven recreation areas of the reservoir in 1981. In addition to water resource management, the reservoir provides fish and wildlife conservation, forest management and recreation.