Baton Rouge Lakes Historical Review
STA has been participating in a major initiative, “Destination: The Lakes,” a master plan to restore the health of the Baton Rouge Lakes and make them a great gathering place for the community.
As a member of the consultant team, STA provided a historical review for master planners SWA Group of Houston and Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects. Due to the volume of information available, we created a digital archive of photographs, articles, and maps which when pieced together, tell the story of the lakes’ origins and evolution.
In the 1920s, Louisiana State University’s relocation to south Baton Rouge from its downtown location created the momentum for growth of the city southward. It sparked the decision to create City Park and its two lakes which were completed in 1929.
Black Tuesday in October of that year ushered in the Great Depression and by the early 1930s, Baton Rouge had the largest unemployment rolls in the state (excepting New Orleans.) The lake extension project was envisioned to create work for the unemployed through the federal Works Progress Administration program. This project involved the draining and clearing of Perkins Swamp in order to create University Lake, Lake Crest, College Lake, and Campus Lake. According to a 1937 article in the local newspaper:
The majority of the labor expended on the project has been done via the pick-shovel and wheelbarrow method with a total of 521,583 man-hours spent. As many as 1,000 men worked at one time on the project and approximately 70,000 cubic yards of dirt had to be removed from the lake bed, with the majority used in constructing levees around one-third of the site. At the time of completion, the lake varied in depth from a few inches at the edges to nine feet in the middle with ‘step off’ holes in various places probably reaching a depth of more than twenty feet.