By Deb Patterson
Documents from Syracuse Town Council meetings indicate the town has owned the lake level control device for 97 years, since the summer of 1922. But the town may have owned the device even earlier than 1922.
The lake level control device, which for years has been referred to as a dam, is referenced not only in “Early Wawasee Days” by Eli Lilly in 1965, but also in “Sharp’s Chronicles: A history of Syracuse” in volumes 1 and 2.
The first “dam” was built in 1832 by Samuel Crosson and Henry Ward at or near the current Huntington Street bridge. This device raised the water level of Syracuse Lake making passage between Syracuse and Wawasee Lake easier. It also filled the marsh land and enlarged both lakes. According to Sharp’s book, the purpose of the dam was to allow the town fathers to harness the lakes for water power to run a grist mill.
This device caused Syracuse Lake to become 3 feet lower than Wawasee.
The grist mill was operated at the location of the current Crosson Park. But in 1837 heavy spring rains brought high water from Lake Wawasee and destroyed not only the mill but also the device.
While documents do not specifically indicate the device was rebuilt, the Syracuse Water Power Company asked the town in 1910 to repair the structure, so water would go through the mill race. It’s noted the town was asked as it controlled the structure at the outlet.
The first concrete structure was built in 1910 by the town and Syracuse Water Power Company. This could have been based on the fact in 1902 the town leased the Syracuse Water Power Company facilities, including the mill race for 20 years.
It was in 1920 the State Department of Conservation held a meeting to consider that agency construct a new device to control the water level. It was turned down by the citizens of Syracuse.
When the lease on the power company property expired, the town bought the facilities and property for $4,000. The minutes from the Aug. 2, 1921, council meeting state “Trustee Nevin McConnell and Town Attorney O.C. Butt reported that they attended the annual meeting of the Syracuse Water Power Co., held on July 28, 1921, at Lilly Cottage at which time they took up with the stakeholders … the matter of purchasing and acquiring the water power property and water rights owned by said corporation and now being leased by the town in order that the municipal water plant might be reconstructed … That a resolution was passed by the stockholders and also the directors … to execute to the town an option to purchase such property and water rights on or before July 1, 1922, for the sum of $4,000 and to execute a proper deed of convey and … .”
Town Attorney George L. Xanders was directed July 25, 1922, to complete negotiations with stakeholders of the Syracuse Water Power Company for the purchase of that property. Minutes from the Aug. 15, 1922, meeting shows the contract for the purchase was submitted and approved with $100 paid to bind the contract.
In October 1926 the structure was rebuilt. On Oct. 5, 1926, the bid was awarded to Doty Brothers of Milford at a cost of $2,100. Again it was built just off Huntington Street.
A letter from town attorney R. Leon Connolly Sept. 5, 1962, to the town board and J. Barton Cox, town clerk was written in response to the town council’s request for a legal opinion about an offer being made by an anonymous donor to the town for construction of a new structure at Crosson Park. Cox wrote “The town is the owner of the land on both sides of the existing dam and the owner of and in control of the existing dam … the town has for many years safely guarded its rights to the control of the dam… .”
The result was a new structure and a committee of representative citizens to plan and approve specifications, supervise construction. The estimated cost of the dam was between $25,000 to $30,000 with the donor making $50,000 available. The town would receive the funds and place it in escrow to handle disbursement of the funds.
An agreement was signed Oct. 2, 1962, between the town and Turkey Creek Dam Project – a committee composed of Jack C. Vanderford, chairman; George L. Ramey, vice chairman; Arthur P. Irmscher, vice chairman; Harold B. Gray, secretary; Irwin F. Deister, treasurer; A. Byron Connolly and Roscoe C. Howard. The town on Oct. 21, 1964, in a special meeting, accepted the completed construction of the device from Turkey Creek Dam Project. The town council members who were present were A. Byron Connolly, Loren Longenbaugh and Vernon T. Beckman. Walter F. Calnon was clerk-treasurer.
The fact the control device was under the control of the town is further substantiated in a Feb. 26, 1990, letter from George C. Bowman, head, Lakes and Dams Section Division of Water to Richard K. Helm, attorney. In that letter he states “the structure is owned and operated by the City of Syracuse…”