Lake Springfield

Lake Springfield under construction

Lake Springfield under construction

Lake Springfield is a 4,000-acre artificial lake constructed by the city of Springfield in the early 1930s. The lake first reached full pool (560 feet above sea level) on May 2, 1935; it was dedicated in a three-day-long celebration in July 1935.

The effort to build the lake was led by longtime city Utilities Com. Willis J. Spaulding. His track record for honest, capable administration helped persuade voters in 1930 to approve a bond issue to pay part of the lake’s cost.  (Spaulding Dam is named after the commissioner, who oversaw Springfield’s electric and water departments from 1909 until 1943.) In the end, however, federal relief programs such as the Works Progress Administration paid much of the lake’s $5.64 million cost.

Most of those who owned land needed for the lake were willing sellers — thanks partly to the Great Depression — but not all. Leander Shoup had to be “escorted from his land by the sheriff and ten deputies,” according to a City Water, Light and Power history of the lake.

lakeThree water sources originally were considered for construction of the lake — the Sangamon River, the South Fork of the Sangamon and the Sugar Creek valley. Engineers determined that Sugar Creek was the most economical option.

The lake’s watershed takes in 265 square miles, or 170,000 acres, mostly in farmland. When built, Lake Springfield had capacity to hold more than 20 billion gallons of water, although sedimentation has reduced that amount over the years (to an estimated 16.7 billion gallons in 2004).

The lake has undergone both drought and flood over the past 80 years. The worst drought, which lasted from 1952 to 1955, drew the lake down 12.5 feet below full pool, reducing its water storage to 7.4 billion gallons and threatening operations of both the power plant complex and the water treatment plant. That prompted construction of an emergency connection to the South Fork to supplement the lake.

Lake Springfield during the 1950s drought

Lake Springfield during the 1950s drought

The 1950s drought also led to plans to build a second lake as a long-term backup water source.  Nearly all the land for Lake II (later named Hunter Lake, after former utilities commissioner John Hunter) had been purchased by the early 21st century. However, bureaucratic hurdles and continuing public doubt about the need for the new lake left it unbuilt as of 2013.

CWLP began to test raw lake water for bacteria in 1999, after 350 lake users contracted leptospirosis following the 1998 Ironhorse Triathlon. The source of the bacteria was never determined.

More than 700 residences, built on land leased from City Water, Light and Power, line portions of the lake shoreline. However, more than half of the marginal land remains public, used for parks, a wildlife sanctuary, Lincoln Memorial Garden, Lincoln Greens Golf Course, Henson Robinson Zoo, the Springfield Muni Opera, a marina and a number of clubs and camps.

More information: See the pamphlet CWLP published as part of the lake’s 75th anniversary in 2010.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.


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4 Responses to Lake Springfield

  1. Paul Mike Troesch says:

    Lake Springfield and Hunter Lake are in fact “Critical Infrastructure” for the next generation of the Springfield population, just as Lake Springfield was critical infrastructure to the Baby Boom generation. The Great generation built Lake Springfield . They understood that you build for future generations, not for your own. Lake Springfield was a gift from them to us, Baby Boomers.

    Springfield needs both lakes to ensure the future of our water supply, electricity, recreation opportunities and habitat for nature and wildlife.

    The water source for Lake Springfield “Lick and Sugar Creeks” will dry up in a prolonged evitable drought that climate change will create, just as it did in the 1952 to 55 drought. A picture is worth a thousand words – See link below.
    Lake Springfield | SangamonLink (

    Lake 2 (Hunter Lake) needs to become the back up water source for the Springfield water supply and critical water for the Power plants that provide electricity for this “State Capital” city .

    Lake 2 (Hunter lake) should be a no wake lake dedicated to fishing, recreation , paddle craft, hiking, biking, swimming, camping, picnicking nature and wildlife, etc. Boat motors should be restricted to 50 Horsepower. Increasing the recreational opportunities provided by Hunter Lake will relieve pressure on lake Springfield

    Hunter Lake should not become a habitat for the wealthy or, a money maker for Relators, the City or a political playing card. It should be protected through State Legislation and City Policy.

    Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to comment.

    Paul Mike Troesch
    2237 Warson Rd.
    Springfield Illinois
    52 year member of Iron Workers, local # 46, Retired
    Vietnam Veteran
    Lifelong resident since 1946

    PS I spent 52 years helping build and have worked on the CWLP power houses, conveyors , water facilities and spillwayr of Spalding Damn. This year I am fishing Lake Decatur because it has been dredged and appears cleaner even though it’s water source is the Sangamon River. What will we leave to our grandchildren? Climate Change? Drought? Brownouts? Rationing?

  2. Jill says:

    Do you have any information or pictures of the cottages used by the workers who were building the lake? We used to drive around the lake to look at them and I can’t find any pictures. I can’t remember what they were called.

    • editor says:

      Jill: Robert Mazrim and Curtis Mann included two photos, one outside and one inside, of one of the cottages (I think after it had been remodeled somewhat) in their 2021 book, “Lake Springfield in Illinois.” The photos are on page 47. If you don’t have access to the book, you can contact Curt at the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library: 217-753-4900, ext. 5634. And thanks for reading.

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