HISTORY of HAMILTON LAKE written 2016
Written for REFLECTIONS (a boat ride around the lake)
Welcome to Hamilton Lake the second largest lake in Steuben County with its 101 plus lakes with 843 acres under water, with an elevation of 898.83 feet above sea level. Hamilton Lake was originally called Fish Lake and it was changed when the town incorporated in 1914.
Lily Dale subdivision developed by Girt Gnagy. This area was recorded May 16, 1927 with eighteen lots. We are in the area of the lake called the Narrows. We are proceeding around the peninsula into the Mill Pond.
The Mill View Condominiums are on the right. Just before the Lakers Restaurant, there had been a house built into the hill with the front on stilts over the lake. The next pier area sits in front of the Hamilton House Restaurant which had been a hospital at one time.
In 1837 a dam was constructed on a creek leading from the lake. Over time, the water level was raised approximately 9 feet, creating the Mill Pond area. Sydney Gambia built a grist mill on this site. In 1859, John Fee built a flour mill on the old mill site. A saw mill, tile factory, and cider press were also operating around the turn of the century. The flour mill was later purchased by Girt Gnagy and Dr. Cameron and was used to grind feed and also to generate electricity for the town and lake area until the late 1920’s.
The Mill Pond provided access to the lake for visitors who arrived by horse and buggy or train. Passengers and their luggage were transported from the depot to the Mill Pond where power launches would take them by water to the various lake resorts. This was a thriving business until automobiles became common and better roads were built.
A washout occurred in the dam around 1841 resulting in the death of one man and injury to another. Floods also threatened the dam in 1903, 1913, 1915, and 1920.
The public beach was built between the 2 spillways in later years. They have a Polar Bear Plunge every year around New Year’ Day. Also for several years Hamilton used to have a Winter Carnival, with activities here on the Mill Pond. Pontoon Parades started in 1961.
A flood in 1996 resulted in the DNR declaring that a new dam and spillway should be built. The dam and spillway has been reconstructed and finished in 2012.
As we come out of the Mill Pond, on the right we will pass the first of seven islands on the lake.
The original road, Shoestring Drive, used to run along the shore of the lake. All the cottages sat across the road on leased ground. Later the road was moved back and the lots were all sold and their cottages were all moved forward. This is the beginning of Oakwood Shores, which was platted with 58 lots done by Lyle & Isobel Gnagy in 1954 and 1955. On the right, in the open area, Fee’s had a bait shop across the road.
Next is Oberlin’s Addition which was started in 1947 by Russell & Gladys Myers.
Oakwood Place is this next area and was recorded in 1913 by the Gnagy’s with multiple lots and blocks. Oakwood Place has a wonderful, natural, sandy beach and beautiful sunsets.
Starting here is Circle Park. This area was originally bought for $4,000 and platted in 5 circles with pie shaped lots in 1909 by Fred Enfield. There originally was a 3 story pavilion built in 1912 with a skating rink on the top floor, reunion hall in the middle and a marina on the bottom floor. The owners sold advertising space to several companies which brought in enough revenue to pay the mortgage payments. Next to this building was a double toboggan run, built in 1921 which took bathers for a long slide into the water. They brought in several loads of sand for a large beach which followed with several diving boards at different heights. The property was sold in 1925 to Homer & Irene Waterhouse for the sum of $25,000. The Waterhouse family developed it into a well-known entertainment and amusement center. They used to have pony rides and free movies (shown outside) on Sundays. The Poynter family bought the property in 1970. They divided the property and sold it for lots.
Devil’s Neck is our next area. The Indians believed that spirits had broken up their canoes while they were moored there and christened it Devil’s Neck.
The next property is the public access. The second island on the lake has only trees and partially hides the many boat docks along the shore.
At the end of this area of the lake is Circle Hill which includes the open space over to the Acapulco Mexican Grill. This was previously Pier 32, where President Obama appeared during his first candidacy. The culvert here allows access to the lake from the Stonestreet’s addition, which is set across the road.
Willow Point originally held a tea room which was destroyed by fire in 1930. Then it was replaced by a beach. Halfway between Willow Point and Cold Springs the first waterslide was built in 1901. A smaller one was built in front of the hotel in 1908.
This next 1 ½ mile of shoreline is the area known as Cold Springs, named for the natural springs found on the grounds. Jerry Kepler sold this 95 acre property to Simpson Watkins in 1870. In 1881 he sold it to his son, Homer & Emily (Haughey) Watkins. They platted lots with the first cottage being built in 1885 which started Cold Springs Resort. The lots in Cold Springs are leased except for a handful that is privately owned. Many boathouses dotted the Cold Springs lake frontage with only a couple remaining today.
The hotel was built around 1897 and became a Northern Indiana icon. In 1900, when William Jennings Bryant was running for president, he gave a speech from the front porch. Also the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) had a picnic with an estimated 10,000 people attending in 1887. It has been renovated many times through the years.
The first dance at Cold Springs was a square dance given in 1881. The big dance hall was built in 1904 – before World War I. In 1916 Rosco Watkins enlarged the pavilion and in 1923 built a new dance hall. During the 40’s and the big band era, Glen Miller, the Dorsey’s and many others played here. Then during the 50’s and 60’s they changed to record hops. In the 70’s there was a resurgence of the big band era and following that was rock. Cold Springs kept up with each change. Local bands still play there now.
During the years they have added an 18-hole golf course which had previously been used in the early 1900’s for league baseball with teams from all over the Midwest. The 5th generation of Watkins is presently in charge of Cold Springs.
Black Creek Flats is this next area. It was laid out to lots by James Cox in 1938. The creek land, a natural habitat for many wild flowers and birds, is dotted with many small cottages and only 3 lakefront cottages. It got its name from the creek that runs through it into Hamilton Lake.
Clark’s Landing was established as a fishing camp with cabins, a store, boats, and bait in the early 1920’s by the Clark family. In about 1985, a cooperative was formed to purchase and operate the trailer court.
Fountain Park, located at the head of the lake on the east side, was inherited by Mabel Day and her brother, Mark Rinehart, at the death of their grandfather, Horace N. Van Auken, Sr., in 1913. Mabel’s husband, Roger Day bought Mark’s share and in 1945 platted the lake frontage and called it “Fountain Park” because of the many springs.
The head of the lake remains undeveloped and is owned by the heirs of the Day family.
Blue Heron Bay is a relatively new sub-division.
Bercaw’s Grandview Height’s was platted in 1959 and consists of 33 lots, not all lakefront.
Russell’s Point was platted and promoted by the James Russell family. In the early days it was a convenience store with boat gas and small cabins along the lakefront for rent.
Past Russell’s Point is Forest Park Beach which was platted in 1922, with additions in 1946, 47, and 57.
Shag Island is the 3rd island on the lake, almost at the point of Forest Park Beach. It reportedly had over 40 trees on it before a house was built. Boy scouts reportedly used to camp out on this island. Holabird’s owned the island and set off fireworks there every year for the 4th of July. One year the house caught fire late, after the fireworks ended. They had saved fireworks for the next night, which were then set off, resulting in a spectacular show in the middle of the night!
Going around the shore of Forest Park Beach, we are entering Muskrat Bay. On the right is the entrance to Crystal Bay and Crystal Cove; this was property owned by the Flegal’s and contained their gravel pit. This development added approximately 41 acres to Hamilton Lake. Just past the entrance is the 4th island which presently has 2 houses on its point. Boy scouts also used this island to camp out on.
The Highlands starts here and was platted in 1929 with 1,360 lots which were each 20’ wide. The Fort Wayne Newspaper, the Journal Gazette, offered these lots for sale for $69.00 each with a subscription to the paper for a one year minimum. (You could also buy the lot for $10.00 down and $3.00 per month – NO INTEREST!) You had to buy a minimum of 2 lots with a maximum of 5 lots per purchase. You could go to their office or mail in a coupon from the paper to start the process of qualification for buying the lots. They also stressed that with your actual deed, you would gain access to the entire Highlands lakefront.
Penn Park originally had a corduroy road (made of wood) which ran through the swamp which led to the peninsula. Sheep were kept on this area (and also on Island Park) to keep the under growth down. This area was platted in 1916 and had 89 lots. In 1920 Fred Kepler bought some lots and ran a boat livery from them until 1942. The homes on the point of the peninsula had only lake water piped into their homes. Water for drinking and cooking had to come from the well house, which was located in the center of the point on the peninsula.
A.M. Young’s Penn Bank, which was platted in 1926 with 24 lots, is the next area. The cottages are built into the hill with the land to the lake feeling like a sponge when you walk on it.
The Highlands continues behind the entrance to Penn Park and behind Penn Bank to Edgewater Beach.
Fee Lake was traded for a mule before the dam was put in. The man getting the mule thought he had made the best deal, since Fee Lake was a swamp at that time. With the change in water depth, the swamp became this area of the lake.
Edgewater Beach is a lake frontage on the west side of the lake with the houses on higher ground, which has lots laid out by Charles Hanes.
Island Park is the 5th and largest island on the lake. It was first platted in 1913 and amended in 1928 with 63 lots. It is approximately a 12 acre island. History tells us that the only house closest to the island before 1900 was a log cabin. The cabin had been built – not to live in, but as a rendezvous for gambling and drinking. These activities were really booming in 1900 with many who spent time there really “living it up.” In 1901, someone set fire to the cabin and it was never rebuilt.
The island was originally owned by Frank Fee, who sold it to Jeremiah Gnagy in 1889. In 1913 it was sold to High Henry and William Thomas of Auburn. They platted the lots into lake lots, constructed a bridge to the mainland, and built a hotel. Charles Hanes began leasing the hotel and purchased it and the rest of the island with the exception of a few lots in 1916. Mr. Hanes and his wife, Louise, ran the hotel.
They offered a beach with a toboggan slide and diving tower. Shuffleboard, croquet, and horseshoes courts were also available, and for a while, a miniature golf course. They also maintained about 24 rowboats for fishing and boat rides were offered on the Vella Mae. (We will hear more about that at the dinner later.) Around 1928 he built a dance pavilion and soda shop in the center of the island, but cottage owners complained so it was removed.
After Mr. Hanes death in 1941, the hotel changed hands several times and was later renamed the Paradise Hotel. The hotel’s annex was destroyed by a fire on a Friday afternoon during April, 1963. The hotel property was owned at that time by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Tuttle. Sometime after that the hotel and land were auctioned off with the new owner removing the remaining structures. Today there are 37 homes on the island.
Next are our final 2 islands (the bridge leads off to the left from Island Park) which are referred to as the Holabird’s Islands after a former owner. The larger of the 2 had two previous homes burn. The first burned following a house warming. The second, years later, was ruled arson.
Back on Island Park, the bridge used to be quite a bit longer before dirt was hauled in by the county to make the road longer and the bridge shorter. As you head south, just 4 homes past this bridge used to be a bait shop in the gray house. Polly Zeiter, a former White Sox player, ran this store. He would get minnows out of the creek at Ball Lake.
This final area is called Lily Dale which was developed by Girt Gnagy. The plat was recorded on May 16, 1927 with 18 lots.
We really hoped you enjoyed your ride and the history of this beautiful lake.
This event is co-sponsored by: The Hamilton Lake Association,
101 Lakes Trust
We would to thank the following people who have made this day such a success:
All boat owners, drivers, and docents
Ron and Carol Jean Abraham, Janet Albright, Terry and Jan Biddle, Tina Bosse, Julia Duncan, Hugh Enfield, Ken Erlenbaugh, Dave Ford, Max Gnagy, Jr., Hamilton Retrospections Authors, Niann Lautzenhiser, Carol Leitzel, Amy Oberlin, Diana Parsell, Margaret Rothrock, Jerry Schaab, Bill Schmidt, Bob Smith, Margo Teegardin, Joanne Thompson, Mary Till, Mary Weigus.
Also 101 Lakes Trust, it’s officers, board members, and members, Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County, Steuben County Community Foundation, The Hamilton Lake Association, it’s officers, board members, and members, The Hamilton News, The Herald Republican