Why and How
Indian Lake was Formed
In 1817, newly elected Governor
DeWint Clinton of New York conceived and commissioned the building of the
Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany as a means of transporting people and
supplies from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River. It officially opened in
1825, connecting the Great Lakes with New York City and greatly
contributing to the settlement of the Midwest.
The construction of the Erie Canal
was so successful that soon an extensive canal system was needed to
accommodate a flourishing Midwest trade industry. Ohio was an economically
poor state with only five main roads hardly passable by wagons loaded with
goods. To be competitive, Ohio needed a new means on which to transport
its crops and manufactured goods to the East and the settlers of the
Photo circa 1850s depicts the construction of the spillway by Irish
immigrants using handpicks, shovels and horse-drawn carts. View is from
just west of the spillway looking eastward. The large cottonwood tree in
the background stood at the current Aries Medical Center site.
Nearly 1,000 miles of canals were developed in Ohio alone, transforming
isolated frontier communities into profitable trading posts and providing
an affordable means of transportation where there previously was none.
Part of the new development was the
Miami Canal, stretching from Toledo to Cincinnati, continuing along the
Ohio River on to the Mississippi River. A system of reservoirs was needed
to the feed the canal when water was low.
At that time, a cluster of small
lakes existed in the northwest portion of Logan County, the largest of
which was Indian Lake, a mere 650 acres. It was located in the southeast
portion of the current lake - basically from the spillway area shoreline
to the Lake Ridge area and south to Artist Island. This area of the lake
also contains some of the deepest waters with depths reportedly reaching
nearly 20 feet south of Dream Bridge.
This 1850s photo shows progress made on the
spillway. View is from the current Aries Medical Center site looking west.
Yes, a covered bridge once stood at that location.
Brush Lake, Otter Lake, Little
Lake, Sheep Pen Lake and Black Lake were located to the north and west of
Indian Lake. Bear Lake and Buck Wheat Patch are also mentioned throughout
written history but do not appear on a map designed in the 1800s by the
Corps of Engineers, USA.
Old Indian Lake seemed a perfect
choice to feed the canal but was deemed too small for the purpose. An 1850
resolution by the Ohio General Assembly called for the building of a
bulkhead where the Great Miami River began in Washington Township. A wall
was constructed at the Waste Weir and the area was allowed to flood.
Hundreds of Irish immigrants toiled
several years using pick axes, shovels and carts to construct dikes at
various points, the longest of which began north of Lakeview, along the
present State Route 366 and through Russells Point to the spillway, or
Waste Weir as it was called. Gates were installed to release water into
the canal as needed.
Laborers completed the $340,000
"Lewistown Reservoir" project in 1860, turning several small lakes into
the second largest man-made lake in the world; second to another Ohio
lake, Grand Lake St. Marys. Indian Lake held that distinction until the
construction of Washington's Grand Coulee Dam and is now considered a
relatively small lake at 5,600 acres.
But just as the lake was completed,
use of the canal system began to decline in favor of the new rail system
and by 1903, water sales income from selling canal water to businesses and
industries exceeded the income from freight carried on the canal. It was
faster and less expensive to ship by freight train. This lake, built for
the specific purpose of feeding the waning canal system was becoming
What to do with the finished
product became a matter of great controversy. The dikes had broken several
times and flooded farms to the south, causing thousands of dollars in
damages and repair expenses. Many area farmers wanted it turned back into
farmland but in 1898, the General Assembly renamed the reservoir "Indian
Lake" and made it a public park.