How was Lake Katharine Used?

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How was Lake Katharine Used?

By Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs | @LearnReynolda

Lake Katharine formed the visual and functional centerpiece of Reynolda’s landscape. It was sited in tandem with the Bungalow and created by the damming of three creeks and the removal – by men and mules – of an enormous quantity of earth, trees, and stumps. Its sixteen acres of water were used to irrigate fields, flowers, and a golf course. In different seasons its placid surface was crossed by canoes, fishing lines, swimmers, divers, ice skaters, and camera flashes.

According to the October 1917 issue of House Beautiful magazine, “Sixty thousand daffodil bulbs were naturalized around this lake, and in blooming time the place is thronged with visitors.” The lake was encircled by a road that passed over the dam’s arched bridge, and connected a chain of destinations for walkers or horseback riders, including the quaint Arts and Crafts-style boathouse, outdoor swimming pool in the woods, tennis court, and outlying orchards and fields.

On May 25, 1921 it was the setting for a pageant based on The Song of Hiawatha, the epic 1855 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On a sandy beach of the sixteen-acre Lake Katharine, white schoolchildren enacted the story of Hiawatha, the legendary prophet and leader of the Iroquois. The cast of 125 was accompanied by a professional orchestra and a drama professor from the University of North Carolina who recited Longfellow’s verses on a float in the middle of the lake, assisted by an electrical loudspeaker – a recent innovation.

Many people on the estate recalled swimming in the portion of the lake below the dam’s waterfall. Bynum Fulcher was the grandson of the estate’s watchman; he recalled that "The community pool was right below the lake and after I fished, I'd swim down there sometimes. That was for people on the place, white or colored, either one was in there. It has a concrete bottom and was about four and one-half feet deep.” Water spilled over the dam into this pool, and climbing roses were trained to cascade over the boulders. On some Sundays the pool was used for baptisms by the congregation of the Five Row church.

Silt and sediment buildup began soon after its completion and continued for the next seventy-five years, transforming the lake into a biologically diverse wetlands. Today the lake area provides a natural history classroom and a refuge for wildlife – migratory and resident birds, raptors, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.

RELATED READING: What happened to the Lake at Reynolda?

Visit the Museum to see Reynolda at 100: Lake Katharine , on view through July 11, 2015.

Learn more about the Hiawatha Pageant in December when Phil Archer discusses the Object of the Month: the Hiawatha Pageant photo album.

Can't make it to the Museum? Visit to browse through the corresponding online gallery, Lake Katharine, and click through a collection of photos from the Reynolda House Archive.

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