(on Water Winter Wonderland web site Amusement Park page). Link courtesy of Rick Lombardo.
History of Lake Lansing
Click Here for some pictures
(Derived primarily from “A History of the Haslett-Lake Lansing Area, Meridian Township, Ingham County, Michigan” by Evelyn Huber Raphael, Sesquicentennial edition, 1992)
Lake Lansing, originally known to us as Pine Lake, served as a hunting and fishing ground for Indian tribes for centuries. Burial mounds have been found around the lake that pre-date the Chippewa Indians and Chief Okemos. The lake provided abundant fishing, and the surrounding woods were a source of wild game.
In 1836 Obed Marshall and his brother, both physicians, likely the first white settlers in Meridian Township, purchased 160 acres south of the lake and land along the west shore to the outlet. They built a log cabin on the west side of the lake in 1837, which was the second home constructed in Ingham County. (The first was in Stockbridge in 1834.)
The lake was described by early writers as being clear, and well stocked with various kinds of fish. The shores were timbered on the north and east by yellow pine, the only sizeable tract in Ingham County. Hickory and oaks wooded the north and west shores.
During the next several decades, the land around, but not immediately on, the lake was settled and farmed. The railroad came through Haslett, near the south end of the lake in 1879/80, making Haslett a depot for farmers to ship their livestock and produce. Water was pumped from the lake by windmills through iron pipes to fill the water tower that refilled the steam engines.
The lake became a popular recreation site in the late 19th century. People came by horse and buggy, by train, and after 1905, by trolley. North of the railroad station was the Town Dock on the lake, accessible by a plank tressel. There one could catch a boat to the north shore resorts.
In the 1880’s the Spiritualists created a park on the west side of the lake as a summer encampment,. The park was named Haslett Park for Mr. James Haslett, who spearheaded the project. The camp attracted thousands of people during the month of August from about 1882 until it gradually declined in the early 1900’s. It covered 20 acres. The auditorium, dedicated in 1888, could seat 2000, (and was still in use housing the “Dodgem” in 1958). There was a dormitory/hotel, dining hall, Séance Hall, barn for horses, and boating facilities. Tents could be rented, or people brought their own. Just outside the camp was the Medium House, with 16 rooms. Only mediums were allowed to enter this building.
In the early 20th century Pine Lake became a fashionable summer colony, with summer homes built by prominent Lansing families such as R.E. Olds, whose home still stands on “the bluffs”. (It was later used as a YWCA camp until it returned to private ownership). However, by 1929, with the prevalence of the automobile, the trolley stopped running and the lake became less fashionable. The Spiritualist camp was sold to the Haslett Park Association, and eventually it became an amusement park.
On the north shore, where the condos now stand, was the Pine Lake House, built in the 1870’s and used as a resort hotel. The grounds included a dance hall, 2 barns, ice house, bath house, and boat houses. A small steamer was launched in 1876, to be succeeded by the steamer “Belle Haslett” in 1881, which carried 150 people for pleasure rides as well as running from the town dock to the north shore hotels. (There was a second small hotel, the Pulver House). A sidewheeler, “Little Mac”, succeeded the “Belle Haslett” in 1902.
Rumor has it that Mickey Cohen, the notorious gangster of the 1920’s, used to enjoy summers at the lake, and was “a perfect gentleman”.
The Pine Lake House burned down in 1929. It was replaced by the Dells Ballroom, where many big-name bands played, and which was in existence until 1986. The condos were then built at the site.
A group of Lansing businessmen built a social club in the middle of the lake in the 1890’s, called the Izzer Club. It was two stories, built on pilings, and had a trap door through which an unwitting guest might take an unexpected dunking. (It is rumored that during prohibition, the trap door was used to hide liquor from the feds). The following story was written in the State Journal by George S.Alderton: “Charley Downey went to Kentucky to look over some horses to buy. Each horse had a long record. Mr. Downey listened patiently, then said, ‘I am not interested the least bit in has-beens. I am not concerned with what any horse was. What I’m looking for is an “izzer”.’ So the Izzer Club.”
The pine forest on the east side of the lake had been logged out by the early 1900’s. Logs were cut in winter and sledded over the ice of the lake to the rail depot.
Hickory Island was platted in 1908, after Carlton Street connected the island to the mainland in 1907. Indian Island was reached only by boat. The first dam at the outlet was placed circa 1909. Frank Johnson, a printer by trade, lived on Hickory Island and in the 1920’s bought up land along the east side of the lake. He was responsible for the creation of Lake Drive, dredging shoreline and swamp in the process. He platted Sunset Cove in the 1920’s and North End Plat, Perry Road Addition, and Indian Island in 1947. It was “Pine Lake Johnson” who pushed to have the name of the lake changed to Lake Lansing, in 1927.
By the late 1960’s, the lake had deteriorated , filled with silt and weeds. A public sewer system stopped the major sources of pollution, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the lake was dredged. Although the dredging was far from complete, the lake regained its health and again became an attractive place for people to live year round.
The South Park was bought in 1974 by Ingham County after the amusement park shut down. Fire had gutted the “Casino” pavilion, which had initially been built by the trolley company in Spiritualist camp days. A historic Denzel carousel in the amusement park was sold to Cedar Point. In 1986, Lake Lansing Park North was completed. The Lake Lansing parks are home to as many as 450,000 visits/year about half of whom come from Lansing and over 90% from the Lansing Metropolitan area.
In 1999, a Special Assessment District was formed to help monitor, maintain and improve the lake. Along with efforts by the Lake Lansing Property Owners’ Association, the recent invasion of foreign species of plants such as Eurasian Milfoil has been controlled. A new 5 year Watershed Management Plan has just been approved and will continue the ongoing work which will be needed to keep Lake Lansing a desirable place for all to enjoy.
Submitted by Liz Kaufman September, 2002