Lake Wylie – Did You Know?
We all know where Lake Wylie is today. But a little more than a century ago there was another lake of a similar name located right here in Davidson.
On March 1, 1893 the Yorkville Enquirer reported that Davidson College students were “highly delighted at the bright prospects of the college lake.” The following day, an article in Winston-Salem’s Western Sentinelprovided additional details. The lake, which was to cover almost fourteen acres, was to be located slightly east of campus where a small creek would provide the water. The effort was spearheaded by Professor Henry Louis Smith, a strong proponent of physical exercise, and the lake was named Wiley Lake in honor of S.H. Wiley of Salisbury, who provided $500 in funding. In addition to the lake itself, plans were to build a boat and bathing house, and to provide boats for the students to use. Dr. Smith had appealed to the students for funds to purchase the boats; eventually $216 was raised for this purpose. The report concluded: “Now…let us, the alumni, the lovers and the students of this dear old college, extend our thanks, not only to…S.H. Wiley…but also to that well-beloved professor, that strong pillar and never-tiring worker, Dr. Henry Louis Smith, of Davidson College.”
On April 13, The Caucasian (Clinton, N.C) added an interesting tidbit when a visitor to campus reported that “each student was required to roll a wheelbarrow or shovel dirt one hour each day in addition to his other studies.” The lake must have been completed by the end of the summer, because an ad for the college that appeared in the Western Sentinelon August 24 offered aquatic sports.
By February 1894, Dr. Smith was stocking the lake with fish, and a Yorkville Enquirer correspondent declared “We hope, in a few more years, to get plenty of fish from “Lake Wiley” to supply our table without having to order them from elsewhere.” The college catalogue that year proclaimed that the lake provided students (and townspeople) with “Swimming, boating and skating [which] add greatly to the comfort and health of the students.” The 1895 edition of the college annual, Quips and Cranks, noted that the lake now featured two bathhouses, six boats, a deep-water spring board, and a water-toboggan slide over two hundred feet long.” This wooden slide enabled lake-goers to board a sled and slide into the water in the summer and across the ice in the winter.
By 1906, the dam had apparently collapsed. That year, the Davidson College Bulletin noted that “Through the energy and loyalty of the class of 1906, the dam has been rebuilt, many other improvements made, and the beautiful lake presented to the College as a class memorial.” Two years later the Bulletin noted that “Through the generosity of Mr. O.D. Davis, of Salisbury, a well-built toboggan slide, two hundred feet long, with a fall of thirty or forty feet, has been constructed on the South side of the Lake, and has added much to the enjoyment of the bathers.”
Quips and Cranks added that on February 4, 1908, the lake was frozen and “Project” (Henry Louis Smith, who was now president of the college) “anxious to show his skating skill” gave the students a half-holiday. That was the last year for the lake, however. In 1909 it was drained for the construction of a new sewer system.
Photo credit: This photo appeared in “Quips and Cranks” in 1895 and in 1897. (Photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.