The history of Conneaut Lake as we know it today has been influenced by intersecting geological processes and human interactions, Formed over 10,000 years ago by retreating glaciers, this kettle lake, a large depression left behind by the glaciers, is currently fed by waters from surrounding springs. It is considered to be the largest naturally occurring kettle lake in the state of Pennsylvania.
Offering an extended frost period and plentiful forests, the area’s fertile resources have long made the lake an attractive home to both a a wide variety of fish and wildlife and many indigenous tribes. The discovery of 10,000 year old mammoth fossils in a 1958 excavation, led by local resident Carl Burkett and Allegheny College Geology Professor Sam Harrison and his students, has spurred speculation that the lake may have been used by ancient nomads to preserve mammoth meat. Later, the Seneca, the Iroquois, the Delaware inhabited the abundant lands around the lake, but were driven out by European settlers following the Revolutionary War, at which time the region was ceded to the United States. The last altercation between the Native Americans and the settlers is dated to 1792. In 1796, Abner Evans’ unsuccessful attempt to establish a sawmill in the area led to the official establishment of Evansburg in the area that now makes up the Conneaut Lake Borough.
Conneaut Lake’s water level was raised for the construction of the Erie Canal, which started in 1820 and opened the settlement of Conneaut Lake up to visitors and trade. Although the canal brought new potential to the region, these opportunities were overshadowed by a devastating malaria outbreak in 1840 that resulted from the increased mosquito population on the raised lake. Through the next few decades, Conneaut Lake managed to overcome this setback and gain popular recognition as a great location for hunting, fishing, boating and other recreational activities. By the time the Canal Era came to an end and the railroads became the dominant mode of transportation, Conneaut Lake had made a name for itself as a tourist destination.
Much of Conneaut Lake’s reputation at this time, however, ought to be attributed to the success of the Ice Company, which provided early economic stability in the area, and allowed more leisure-based business pursuits to flourish. By 1879, both Lynce’s Landing and the Oakland Beach had been created to better facilitate vacationers, and the completed construction of the railroad in 1880 provided them with transportation from bigger cities like Erie and Pittsburgh. Although having initially aided in laying a foundation on which other local businesses were established, the Ice Company would later partake in a controversial acquisition of lake ownership, thereby preventing numerous companies and individuals from securing their economic futures.
A complex convergence of natural, industrial, and social factors have shaped the history of the lake itself and the surrounding community of Conneaut Lake, contributing to the uniqueness of the area. From the prehistoric findings of the lake to early conflicts between natives and settlers, and the economic development of the area, many factors have come to influence the contemporary culture of the community in differing and complicated ways
Burkett, Carl. Personal interview 2015.
Bush, Lee, O. Conneaut Lake Park: The First 100 Years of Fun. 1992. Print.
Luty, Bronson B. The Lake as it Was: An Informal History and Memoir of Conneaut Lake. Meadville, PA: Crawford County Historical Society, 1994. Print.