Friday, January 08, 2016

On the shores of Lake Gay, you say?

"Lake" was a relative term in Chariton prior to 1905, when the C.B.&Q. reservoir (now West Lake, or Crystal Lake) was built. There were no large bodies of water, so puddles became ponds and ponds of varying sizes sometimes were designated "lake."

Spring Lake, source of the name for south Chariton's Spring Lake Subdivision, was one of these. But there was a Gay Lake, too --- and here's a photo from the Lucas County Historical Society collection to prove it. Heck, it's not even a good-sized pond. But from the early 1890s until 1903, lake it was.

Gay Lake came about soon after the venerable Thomas Gay (1837-1908) and his wife, Lotilla Ann, retired from their Warren Township farm and moved into town. That farm had incorporated the site of the pioneer post office called Freeland, subject of yesterday's post.

The Gays purchased a lot at the intersection of Court Avenue and Sixth Street, three blocks due east of the southeast corner of the square, and built themselves a new home. I'm not sure exactly where that home stood or if, in fact, it still stands --- I'll try to clarify that when I get a chance to take a look at Chariton's town lot records again. But this was a scenic, conveniently located, developing neighborhood at the time, offering views of woods and hills across a draw to the east.

I'm guessing that their home was --- and still may be --- located on the northeast corner of that intersection. They actually built two adjacent houses here, living first in one and then in the other.

Just to the north was another lot, low with a stream running through that had been damned to the west in 1888 to form Lake Como --- built to provide the water needed by the city's new electrical generating plant in what now is Yocom Park. Remember that the lower area of today's park once was filled with water, held in place by a dam that still is the base of North Sixth Street.

It was here that the Gays built a small pond and went to work landscaping the area around it. The Chariton Patriot reported in its edition of July 14, 1898: "Mr. Thomas Gay is making the surroundings of the small lake on the lot just north of his house and east of Lake Como, very beautiful. He has water lilies and water hyacinths nicely started to growing in the water and has petunias and other flowers growing at the edge of the lake, making quite a pretty picture. A tiny fountain, rocks covered with moss, add also their share of attractiveness of the spot."

Unfortunately, the entire enterprise washed down the creek five years later, during late August of 1903, when a record-breaking rain storm struck Lucas County. Here's how The Chariton Herald of Sept. 3, 1903, reported the damage in this part of town:

"The city also comes in for considerable loss. Last Thursday night the dam on the east side of the pond at the electric light plant gave way and about twenty feet went out. The torrents of water rushing across Mr. Gay's property washed out his pretty little lake which he had stocked with fish and sown with water lilies, and in the twinkling of an eye, several years of hard work was gone for naught."

The dam was repaired and Lake Como refilled, but the Gays made no attempt to restore their landscaping achievement.

Ten years later, during 1912-1913, the new Rock Island line was driven from north to south through east Chariton, changing the nature of the neighborhood entirely. Court avenue now became the main approach to the new Rock Island Depot, everything east of Sixth Street to the south was incorporated into railroad right-of-way and rail yards and, to the north, a new electrical generating plant was built alongside the new tracks.

Thomas Gay wasn't there to see this development --- he died during 1908 at the "advanced" age of 71. Here's how the neighborhood looks from the air today:

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