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History of Indian Lake

The following is an excerpt from a research project prepared by students of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

In the northwest section of the city of Worcester, lies a beautiful body of water known as Indian Lake. The lake is 193 acres, and is a main attraction for many recreational activities. The area of Indian Lake has gone through many changes throughout its history, and has also faced a few challenges. Through the efforts of area residents in the past years, Indian Lake has become a cherished asset to the Worcester community.

Indian Lake was once known as North Pond. The pond encompassed about forty acres, and was surrounded by marshes and farmland. Its outlet, Mill Brook, was the main source of power for many of the industrial mills in Worcester, including North Works of the American Steel and Wire Company.

In the early 1800’s, waterways were important in the transportation of goods between major cities and areas. However, the growing city of Worcester was land-locked at the heart of the Massachusetts commonwealth. A project was set forth to link Worcester with Providence, Rhode Island via a canal along the Blackstone River.

North Pond was the peak source of water for the Blackstone River. In 1828, a dam was built at the outlet of the pond to increase the amount of water for use by the Blackstone Canal. This new reservoir was part of a system of lakes and ponds used to control the flow of water in the Blackstone Canal. However, the canal was a short lived project, that vanished due to the rising use of the rail system and complaints from mill owners within the Blackstone River watershed. 20

With the construction of the dam, a nice acre island emerged from the rising waters. The island became known as Sears Island, named after a man who owned the island and other local land, although the first name of the man is unclear. 21

The island was purchased from Sears by O’Connell Real Estate Agency. The agency divided the island into 25 by 100 foot lots to be sold for housing. In its early years, the island was used as a summer recreation area. People would set up wooden platforms for tents and spend their summer at this island retreat. Also on the island was the Worcester Shooting Gallery where area enthusiasts would shoot clay pigeons over the lake. 22

The only way to get to the island in early years was by small boats. Around 1915, logs were placed from the island to the mainland, and soon a nine foot wide wooden bridge was built. In 1926, a concrete causeway was constructed and is still in use today. 23

The first permanent resident, Soren Andersen, moved onto Sears Island around 1921. He was soon followed by Augustus Talbot in 1922, who bought and moved into the Worcester Shooting Gallery building. During the next couple years, about twenty more families moved onto the island. In 1923, the Sears Island Improvement Association was formed to bring some of the modern conveniences of the city to the island. Through its work, the island received gas, electricity, and a sewer system in 1925, and running water in 1930. 24

The isolation of the island created a close community where residents knew just about everyone else on the island. Although the closeness of the houses may lack privacy, this same closeness contributes to the security of knowing one’s neighbors and having the sense of watching after each other. Many families moved into the community together, and have continued living there for generations. 25

Indian Lake was also home to a local ice harvesting operation. During the days before automated ice-making machines, the harvesting of ice on local lakes and ponds was a big business employing hundreds of local residents. During a few short weeks in the winter, men would begin the harvest in mid-January or when the ice was about eighteen inches thick.

Ice harvesting began in Worcester in 1848, with Dr. Benjamin F. Heywood harvesting ponds and providing ice to the local establishments. A few years later, Benjamin Walker bought the ice harvesting business and in 1855, established the Walker Ice Company with Samuel S. Sweetser. A storage facility was established on the western shore of Indian Lake, where Morgan Park is now located. This facility would harvest approximately 15,000 to 18,000 tons of ice per year. The Walker Coal and Ice Company continued to harvest ice from Indian Lake, until its storage facility burned down in 1935.

On November 24, 1990, a horse-drawn sleigh used to carry ice was dragged from the muddy bottom of Indian Lake during an Indian Lake Watershed Association organized cleanup in which the lake level was lowered for removal of debris. The sleigh was found and dug out of the mud and dragged onto the shore near Morgan Park, where it remains as a historical reminder of the ice harvesting industry on Indian Lake.

In the past fifty years, development within the watershed area of Indian Lake has increased. This development has posed a problem to the quality of water in Indian Lake. As development occurs, the natural balances of the environment can be affected. The construction of roads and buildings increases the amount of runoff into lakes and streams because there is less soil to absorb the water and nutrients carried with it. Such problems can be seen in the Indian Lake area.

One of the main problems facing Indian Lake was the excessive growth of algae and weeds. This growth of plant life is caused by the increase of nutrients that flow into the lake from the surrounding area, and may contribute to the eutrophication, or overgrowth, of a lake.

In 1978, a group of concerned residents of the Indian Lake area, formed the Indian Lake Improvement Association. This group of residents took steps to improve and preserve the quality of the lake by organizing clean-ups and finding ways to prevent excessive weed growth. Their main purpose was to make the residents within the watershed area knowledgeable about the factors that can contribute to weed growth and eutrophication. 26

In 1985, through the continuing efforts of the community, the Indian Lake Watershed Association was incorporated. Through dealing with local companies and government agencies, they were able to take steps in controlling the weed growth in Indian Lake.

In July of 1986, the herbicide Diquat was added to the lake to kill the weed elodea. This procedure was a success, however, the decaying plant material at the bottom of the lake provided nutrients to promote the growth of algae. To fight the algae, copper sulphate was added to the water.

The use of chemicals to control the weed growth was not as successful as hoped. Another method used to control weeds was to lower the level of the lake. In the past few years, the lowering of the water has proved to be a success. The lake is lowered in November, so that about half of the lake bottom is exposed to the cold weather of winter. During this time, weeds are either uprooted by the ice, or the bottom of the lake is shifted by the cold and the roots of the weed die. In February, the gates of the lake are closed, so that the runoff from the rain and melting snow may fill the lake up again. 27

Today, Indian Lake is a major recreation area and includes such activities as sailing, swimming, fishing and tennis. There are many beaches and parks around the lake, some of them maintained in part by the Indian Lake Watershed Association. Through public education of factors that effect eutrophication, Indian Lake will remain an attraction for the enjoyment of future generations.

20 Zelotes W. Coombs. “The Blackstone Canal.” The Worcester Historical Society Publications New Series v.1, no. 8, April 1935, pp.458-70.

21 Robert Tarutis. “Sears Island.” Worcester Magazine, 28 November 1981.

22 George Marks. “Sears Island Grew Out of Nowhere.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 6 September 1960.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 Nancy K. Mansbach. “Independent Sears Islanders Favor ‘Isolated’ Life.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 5 May 1974.

26 Susanna Seymour. “Organization Seeks Cleanup, Preservation of Indian Lake.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 10 July 1978.

27 John J. Monahan. “Indian Lake Project a Success.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 9 September 1992

REPORTS

Phosphorous Reduction Study 2013

The City of Worcester recently hired the environmental engineering firm of Brown and Caldwell to study Indian Lake and the surrounding watershed to help evaluate nutrients entering the lake and the impact on water quality. The goal is to help the City develop a long term plan for managing the nutrient flow in Indian Lake and the adjoining Blackstone River.

Indian Lake Phosphorous Reduction Study Presentation

Indian Lake Phosphorous Reduction Study Report

Preliminary Dredging Report 2007

There is little disagreement that sediment that has washed into Indian Lake over the years has contributed to many problems including weed growth and water clarity. Dredging is a very complicated and expensive process. As monies and time allow, we have taken steps which move us in that direction. We have made huge efforts in reducing the amount of sediment entering the lake which is a critical piece. We have also characterized the sediment at the 4 locations in which it has entered the lake most heavily. Characterization is determining how much there is and what is in the sediment, again very important should we get to the point of removal.

Dredging Report

ESS Plant Replacement Program Final Report 2006

Plant Replacement

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Total Maximum Daily Load Report for Indian Lake

TMDL

Copper Cycling Report 1975

Copper 1975