Located in Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, to the northeast, Lake Carnegie is a reservoir created by a dam on the Millstone River. Along the lake’s eastern shore is the Delaware and Raritan Canal and its accompanying tow way. Andrew Carnegie, a successful businessman and generous benefactor, funded the lake’s construction and then gave it to Princeton University. The Lake Carnegie Historic District was included on the United States’s official list of historic sites in 1990.
The lake is used by the university’s rowing team and is also home to the United States’ Olympic rowing squad. The public can use it, though, for things like ice skating, fishing, and picnicking. Carp, largemouth bass, crappie, pickerel, channel catfish, and even brown and rainbow trout find their way from Stony Brook into Carnegie Lake. The lake’s safety standards have dropped precipitously due to years of pollution. The water quality of Carnegie Lake is still being worked on.
Upon the urging of portrait painter Howard Russell Butler, Class of 1876—for whom steel magnate Andrew Carnegie sat in 1902—Carnegie donated the cash to build Lake Carnegie. Butler explained to Carnegie how the crew team disbanded in 1886 due to competition for space on the crowded Delaware and Raritan Canal between New York and Philadelphia. College boys’ fantasies of building a dam at the junction of the Millstone River and Stony Brook, flooding the bogs near the Washington Road Bridge, were promptly welcomed by Carnegie.
Butler informed Carnegie that a lake could be built for $119,000 (about $2.5 million in today’s currencies) after consulting with an engineering firm in New York. An estimated total cost of $450,000 (about $9.5 million today) was one of the greatest underestimates in Princeton’s history. Through a local agent, Carnegie started buying land in 1903, and by 1905, they had all the land they needed and were clearing it and building the bridges and dam. In December 1906, the lake was formally opened to the public.
Lake Carnegie was donated to Princeton University in 1934 after being owned by a charity. The lake, however, was not yet finished being built. Due to silting and floods, the University had to dredge the lake three times in the first 65 years (in 1927, the late 1930s, and 1971) because of the lake’s short depth. The lake is now nine feet deep uniformly within 35 feet of the shore thanks to the most recent excavation.
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