Archive for Friday, May 11, 2012

100 years ago: No more swimming allowed in Potter’s Lake

May 11, 2012


From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for May 11, 1912:

"Last night's rain measured a total of 3.65 inches according to the official report from the University observatory. The rain came as a welcome visitor to the farmers as the ground was becoming dry and hard endangering the crops. Last night's rain softened up the ground and the country is expecting some good corn and wheat crops as a result. Out in West Lawrence the ravines were filled with water being carried to the river. The new sewers were crowded for the first time since being put in and carried away an immense volume of water. However, they were able to handle all of it and there was no overflowing.... Several stores in the 800 block of Massachusetts street have about a foot of water in the cellars."

"There will be no more swimming in Potter's Lake on the University Campus. Such an order has been issued by the Chancellor and is being enforced. It is the result of the drowning last Tuesday of Ernest Van Dyke in this lake together with the drowning of Leonard Ritchey last year. This order is to remain in effect permanently.... In the future Potter's lake will serve but as a beauty spot for the campus and a water reservoir for the University. It is connected with pumps to be used in case of fire on the hill. The annual spring regatta will probably be staged on the lake again each spring, but as to swimming in the lake, that is ended."


Clint Church 6 years, 1 month ago

Two questions. Isn't it called Potter lake and was it alot bigger then. I don't know how you would have any kind of race on it now.

Sarah St. John 6 years, 1 month ago

Hi Joe,

  1. It has come to be called Potter Lake, but in earlier years, it still had the apostrophe-s that designated it as having been named after state senator Thomas Potter in 1911. I am not sure when the usage changed from Potter's to Potter.

  2. It was a bit bigger. Here is a picture from 1911:

It was 16 feet deep at the time and you can see from the picture that it could have hosted a small boat race without too much trouble. Years of subsequent storm runoff (and maybe people throwing things in there) had reduced the depth to about 6 feet by the mid-1950s, when it was dredged for the first time.

Hope this helps -- thanks for reading!

johnwoods 6 years, 1 month ago

It appears that maybe the ban on swimming wasn't permanent after all.

According to the website ( a springboard and diving tower were installed in 1914 by James Naismith.

Chancellor Lindley formed a committee in 1924 to study the situation. There were beginning to be water quality problems, and several more drownings had occurred. They decided to finally forbid swimming. So Naismith built a 7-hole golf course around it instead! It slowly went away after World War II.

A total of seven people have died in the lake.

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