What happened to the lake at Reynolda?

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What happened to the lake at Reynolda?

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Pictured: Lake Katharine Wetland present day.

Lake Katharine was the most prominent feature of the Reynolda landscape when the Reynolds family moved into their bungalow in 1917, but today all that remains of the man-made lake is a wetland.  How did this transition take place?  

In the 1950s, Reynolds descendants donated approximately 300 acres of the Reynolda Estate to Wake Forest College, in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  The school--now Wake Forest University--moved to Winston-Salem at that time. Over the next decade, the family also donated Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village to the University. The landscape of the historic estate is now a 129-acre preserve that includes the formal gardens, greenhouse, a twenty-four acre meadow, woodlands, and the wetland (the remains of Lake Katharine).

The preserve is located in an active urban area and has been severely affected by surrounding development. The lakebed has filled with silt and sediment deposited from its contributing streams. At first gradual and largely unnoticed, the siltation process accelerated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a dramatic influx caused by lack of erosion control at construction projects upstream.  A dam prevents the land’s return to the natural condition of wooded hillsides and streams, and so the former lake is now an artificial wetland, known as the Lake Katharine Wetland.  It is home to a variety of wildlife and serves as an educational resource for students at Wake Forest University.

Visit the Museum to see Reynolda at 100: Lake Katharineon view from  June 28, 2014 - July 11, 2015.

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


I'd like to know the status of the boat house.  I grew up near the estate and in the winter I would go to the deserted boat house and watch the large carp swimming under the thick ice.  I really enjoyed playing around the estate, most of which was deserted at the time.

Though the lake is gone, the Boathouse still stands and is in use at this moment for the Young Naturalists Camp run by Reynolda Gardens. It is used throughout the eyar for an education center to teach children about nature and the Lake Katharine Wetlands. You can see photos of it over time in our exhibition Reynolda at 100: Lake Katharine, opening on Saturday.

Bryan, Thank you for your comment. I will have an answer for you shortly.

I'm wondering why the pool near the lake has been left to become part of the elements, much like the tennis courts.  Are there any plans to help these two beautiful athletic facilities be restored?

Rebecca, what a great question. As of now, there are no plans to restore these areas. A restoration of this scale would be cost-prohibitive to undertake and maintain. I will do some research and find out the timeline and story of these two facilities. Thank you for writing.
- Trish Oxford, Reynolda's Resident "Snoop"

By 1967, the core of the Reynolda estate had become three separate entities: Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University, and Reynolda Village. 2017 will mark the centennial of the completion of the estate. At that time we plan to introduce some new ways for visitors to all parts of the estate to understand the various original elements that comprised it. These will be as low-tech as signs in the landscape and as high-tech as a new outdoor smartphone tour. 
The outdoor swimming pool had another function in addition to being a recreation facility: It was also an irrigation basin for the sophisticated water system on the estate. To learn about the water system, see these articles written by Camilla Wilcox for the Reynolda Gardens Gardener's Journal in 2009:http://www.reynoldagardens.org/journals/2009-winter-journal.pdfhttp://www.reynoldagardens.org/journals/2009-fall-journal.pdf
As the function of the estate changed in the 1960s and the original water system was no longer used, the pool was filled in. 
The tennis court to the north of the Babcock Wing was one of two clay courts at Reynolda in the 1910s and '20s. (The other court was located on the west side of Reynolda Road near athletic fields; the site is now occupied by Summit School). The extant court featured wire fences covered in climbing roses and a viewing pavilion made of rustic cedar poles and cedar shingles. Reynolda's numerous summer houses, or pavilions, were designed by the estate's landscape architect, Thomas Sears. The court fell out of use in the 19--s and has not been rehabilitated as an interpretive feature. 
- Elizabeth Chew, Betsy Main Babcock Director of the Curatorial and Education Division and Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs

Fond memories, particularly of a spring 8:00am "English" freshman class (outdoors) led by Emily Herring (now Wilson).


Water was plentiful on the Reynolda Estate, with multiple springs supplying as much as 30,000 gallons of fresh, cold water per day. This was piped throughout the estate, providing the "purest water for man and beast." It also supplied an outdoor pool in the woods, about 100 yards along a path strewn with tobacco stems (per oral history with Elizabeth Wyeth, p. 12) extending from the east wing of the bungalow. Originally built as a reservoir for irrigation water for the golf course, it was flat-bottomed, deep, and very cold. It included a pool house (still standing) with a water slide.
This pool was used by family members, as several photographs demonstrate, as well as the children of employees (oral history of Al Drage, gardener's son, 1993 p. 19).
Elizabeth Wyeth, a niece, recalled that "Aunt Katharine insisted that the older girls -- they were, say, fourteen -- had to wear stockings...I wasn't old enough. I never was required to wear stockings. They had bloomers down to here and then stockings. Whether there was a mixed crowd or not, they had to wear the stockings." (p. 13)
Many people on the estate also recalled swimming at the lake, from daughter Nancy Reynolds to Harvey Miller (who grew up at Five Row, the African American farm village and later rose to the position of head butler). According to the night watchman's grandson, Bynum Fulcher, "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. (Bynum Fulcher, p. 17) Water spilled over the dam into this pool, and climbing roses were planted to cascade over the rocks. On some Sundays the pool was used for baptisms by the congregation of the Five Row church.
- Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs

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