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Lake Massasoit (RG 149)

This photograph shows the railroad bridge over Springfield Massachusetts' Lake Massasoit. The bridge is located behind Springfield College's International Hall. The reflection of the bridge and the surrounding trees are seen in the water.

Lake Massasoit

Lake Massasoit functions as a pond to collect contaminants from the basin covering 20,000 acres within Springfield, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, and Hamden. In 1809, Lake Massasoit was formed by the army by damming the Mill River. It is the second largest man-made water establishment in Massachusetts, and Springfield’s second largest body of water, after the Connecticut River. The formerly named Watershops Pond covers 7 miles of shoreline, and 186 acres. The pond is fed by two major streams called the North Branch and the South Branch. During 1857, the middle and upper watershops were changed so the height of the dam was raised, the total head of the water became 35 feet deep and the total acres increased to 224 acres. The purpose of the dam was to ensure a constant flow of water downstream and thus to retain water during the wet season and store water during the dry season.. At this time, workers uncovered the first dinosaur skeleton found in either North or South America.

People used to go to the Watershops pond for sailing, swimming, ice skating and fishing. There were 4 boathouses surrounding the pond, with two on Alden Street and two on Hickory Street. Since 1940, 272 homes have been built within 600 feet of the pond. The Pond was drained in 1954 and allowed to refill for cleaning purposes. However, the August flood in 1956 decreased the pond 4 feet from the previous height because the pond had to be drained once again. After the damage to the pond following the flood, the city held many meetings about setting the water to the original height or removing the pond and placing an industrial site at the location instead. However, it was decided to keep the lake and use money to fix the dam. The lake was drained once again and the Army completed the repair of the dam in 1957. During the 1960’s, the city of Springfield purchased the pond from the army for $2,500.

From 1892-1900, the buildings of Springfield College began to come about, and the name was changed to Lake Massasoit by Springfield College officials. The name came from a local hotel, the Massasoit House, owned by Marvin Chapin, a generous benefactor of the college. In 1920, the college purchased a large area of land on the upper end of the pond, and called it the “Freshman Camp.” Tug of war used to take place between the sophomores and the freshman across the lake in this area as a Springfield College tradition. But in 1941, the public beaches closed and have never reopened. In 1970, a cleanup drive took place on the lake, and in 1975 the pond had to be refilled again for sanitary purposes. The lake was officially closed for swimming in 1984 when the lake was said to be unhealthy due to the high levels of bacteria and other microorganisms found in the lake. It was assumed that the unsanitary conditions came from rain that was swept off the street and into the lake. During the summer of 2011, a tornado struck Springfield and damaged the lake and surrounding areas. After months of cleanup, the city and the lake were in use again. As of now, the present dam has been operational since 1957, and Lake Massasoit still serves as a fishing area for the people of Springfield.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Lake Massasoit Records collection contains documents and materials on the history, development and state of Lake Massasoit or the Watershops Pond. Materials range from correspondence, reports, memos, videos, audio, newspaper articles, and photographic prints. Among the important documents on the history of Lake Massasoit are a newspaper article titled “History of Watershops Pond” appearing in the January 1983 Family Journal, an article from the January 11,1914 Springfield Republican., and a cassette tape of a lecture given by Richard C. Garvey. There are also a number of reports, including two documents written in 1965 by Springfield College professor Britton C. McCabe and the final draft of a report created under the Department of Environmental Quality Engineering Division of Water Pollution Control, under MGL Chap. 628, Massachusetts Clean Lakes Program and was released in April 1986. A large portion of the collection is made up of photographic prints and slides of Lake Massasoit or where Lake Massasoit is the focus. Included are some photographs of the low water levels in 1956, a series of photographs taken of the Clean-up of Lake Massasoit in 1996, boating scenes, postcards, photographs taken during the winter, and photographs taken around campus with people and without.

Another important part of the collection is the Lake Massasoit Restoration project that was first proposed in 1990. Included within are original reports on the state of Lake Massasoit, the proposed project, the results of that project, and a documentary titled “The Lost River: the Story of the Mill River.” Within the materials from the documentary are twenty-eight beta tapes and six VHS tapes that includes the raw footage used in the documentary and materials from interviews on Arcata, California Water Restoration project. It is not known whether these materials were used or gathered for this documentary.

Finally there is a series containing newspaper articles, correspondence, and a report presented to Springfield, Massachusetts Planning Board on when the Lake Massasoit Dam broke in1956. The bulk of the series is made up of newspaper articles about the dam burst and the struggle to get the dam fixed and the water level restored.. Among the correspondence is a letter signed by John F. Kennedy.