The history of Springfield's efforts to ensure itself a safe and reliable supply of drinking water has been fraught with periods of political warfare and public skepticism. But arguably the most extreme of these cases occurred during the height of America's Dust Bowl, as Springfieldians wondered and worried whether or not the 4,200-acre lake they had just built on the city's southeastern edge would ever fill. The $2.5 million project was intended to serve not only as a long-term water supply for Springfield and nearby communities but also as the source of cooling water for the new electric generation plant being constructed on the lakeshore. For eighteen long months, from December 1933 through April 1935, they waited anxiously for water to slowly trickle in from the lake's drought-depleted primary feeders, Sugar and Lick Creeks.
When impounding began in December 1933, the expectation was that the lake would be filled by mid-summer of the following year. But as summer passed into fall and fall into winter, public concern mounted. So did the chorus of derisive comments from opponents of the lake and of its staunchest backer, CWLP Commissioner Willis Spaulding. Spaulding almost single-handedly had convinced a majority of local residents and business owners that committing millions of dollars to this project during the Great Depression would be a wise expenditure of public monies. During the long and worrisome filling process, the would-be lake became known as "Spaulding's Folly," and people joked about being able to soak up all the available water with sponges.
But just as the story of the tortoise and the hare proves, slow and steady eventually wins the race. By spring 1935, folly turned to festivity as the lake level finally inched its way to full pool. In the wee hours of the morning on May 2, 1935, a jubilant Willis Spaulding stood on the Spaulding Dam bridge and watched as the lake finally hit the magic number—560 feet above sea level—allowing the first water to wash over the dam gates and christen the spillway below. Lake Springfield was born!
To commemorate Lake Springfield's 75th anniversary in 2010, CWLP prepared a special pamphlet detailing the lake's history. The pamphlet is available to the public free of charge while supplies last. Order yours today or view it online. A video celebrating the building of Lake Springfield is also available for viewing on this website.
|Cutting trees and pulling or blasting out tree stumps was just one of the back-breaking tasks laborers did to clear thousands of acres of land for the lake bed and lakeshore construction sites.
||Horse-drawn wagons and modern machinery worked side-by-side to construct Lake Springfield's Spaulding Dam.||Construction of Spaulding Dam's bridge and flood gates nears completion.|
|Hundreds of out-of-work men were paid 50¢ an hour to clear land and perform other manual labor during Lake Springfield's construction.
||An intricate wooden cement form was utilized to create the distinctive arches of Lindsay Memorial Bridge.||Miles of water main were laid to connect the new lake-side Water Purification Plant to the city.|
|When Lake Springfield filled, a portion of Route 66 south of Springfield was buried underwater. But the historic highway was given new life with the con-
struction of the Lake Springfield Route 66 Bridge (above). This structure later served as the south-
bound lanes of the original Lake Springfield I-55 twin-span bridge.
|The structural steel frame of Lakeside Power Station rises along the shoreline of the slowly filling lake.||The new state-of-the-art lakeshore Water Purification Plant is nearly finished in this photo taken circa 1935. At the lower right side of the photo, you can see part of one of the circular Spaulding Clarifiers, designed by Water Treatment Supervisor, Charles Spaulding.|
|Laborers took advantage of the lake's slow rate of fill to rip rap the shoreline to protect against erosion.|| Construction of the Lake Springfield Beach House was one of several auxiliary projects undertaken in the marginal lands to ensure the public could enjoy the "bounties of nature" that would accrue from the building of Lake Springfield.
||The three-day celebration held in July 1935 to com-
memorate the completion of Lake Springfield included a dedication ceremony at Spaulding Dam.