Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society is dedicated to exploring the rich natural and cultural heritage of Conneaut Lake and the surrounding areas. Located in Northwest Pennsylvania, the Conneaut Lake area has a long history of affecting the region, the state and even the nation.
The story of Conneaut Lake began during the Ice Age when advancing glaciers carved the land and receding glaciers formed the lake. These natural phenomena left behind fertile soil, gravel deposits, numerous streams and rivers and diverse plant and animal life. Conneaut Lake is the largest natural lake and one of 5 kettle lakes in Pennsylvania. Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths roamed the shores. Skeletal evidence can be found in the museum and some remain in the depths of the lake.
Photo Credit of David Lepley.
Native Americans, specifically the Iroquois, came to the area for the abundance of fish and wildlife and left traces of their hunting and fishing. Conneaut is from the Seneca word kon-ne-ot, meaning “snow waters” because the snow stayed on the lake longer than it did other places.
Abner Evans’ grist mill at the outlet of the lake was one of the first permanent settlements in the area in 1793 and the fledgling town was named Evansburg in his honor. Through the 1800’s, the town and area prospered with various businesses, typical of the era, such as blacksmiths, lumber, toolmaking, grocers, hardware, stock farm and dairy farms.
In the 1830’s, as transportation was becoming crucial to the nation’s economy, plans and construction began for the French Creek Feeder Canal. The canal carried water 25 miles from French Creek to Conneaut Lake, raising its level 10 feet and serving as a reservoir to provide water to the Erie-Pittsburgh Extension Canal. The raising of the lake, unfortunately, cost many Conneaut Lake residents their lives, due to a malaria like disease from the flooded land. Barber Cemetery is testimony to this tragedy, as seen by many graves of children and young adults.
Canal travel was soon replaced by the railroad in the 1860’s which brought rapid change to the area. One of those was the name of the town was changed to Conneaut Lake in 1892.
An Ice Industry thrived from the late 1880’s to 1930’s, harvesting tons of ice from the lake by hundreds of men, to be stored in gigantic ice houses and shipped via railroad to many large cities hundreds of miles away.
Trains brought hundreds of passengers to share the beautiful lake and outdoor experiences at campsites, boarding houses and hotels. By 1892, Exposition Park was founded and later became Conneaut Lake Park. So began an era of Conneaut Lake being a resort destination
Hotels and cottages were built, steamboats, sailboats and rowboats plied the lake, and people flocked to the lake to enjoy the clean, fresh air and water, at a time of increasing industrialization in cities.
As automobile travel became more mainstream, the trend continued. Speedboats, water skiing and boat races became a source of entertainment. Ferry Boats were a welcome sight on the lake, taking passengers to and from Conneaut Lake Park, Conneaut Lake town and stopping at various docks along the East Side.
The Liberty II, a speedboat with a V8 aircraft engine, when preparing for a race, flipped and sank in 1922 and was preserved in the lake silt for 63 years until divers retrieved it.
Into the 21’st century, beautiful Conneaut Lake continues to be treasured. The Barbara J, a true paddlewheel powered sightseeing boat, has replaced the steamboats.
Speedboats, skiers and sailboats continue to be a source of recreation, joined by pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks and the occasional rowboat. Hotel Conneaut remains, the other numerous hotels have been replaced by cottage rentals and air B&Bs. People enjoy fishing, golfing, and restaurants. Our Borough is undergoing a revitalization. And our beloved Conneaut Lake Park is beginning a transformation.
The Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society is committed to preserving and sharing our area’s rich history to engage and inspire present and future generations.