Indian Lake History

For Your Amusement   (Ohio State Parks Magazine – Spring/Summer 2000)
What to do with more free time and more money? This was the delightful dilemma of America’s newly industrialized society in the late 1800s.

America’s rail companies came up with a solution. After revolutionizing public transportation with the introduction of electric trolleys and interurban passenger rail systems, the rail companies created public amusement parks at the ends of their major rail lines to boost business on the weekends. Though the rail companies get credit for the widespread development of the amusement parks in the early 1900s, many individual entrepreneurs jumped on board and built their own parks for public entertainment.

The typical amusement park offered novel and exciting mechanical wonders—roller coasters, ferris wheels, and twirling, spinning car rides—offering thrilling experiences of speed and height. In addition to a merry-go-round and penny arcade, each park also offered a dance hall. Admission to the park was free, and pocket change was enough to purchase a fistful of tickets for the rides and arcade games.

mgrThese gathering places reflected the trends in society in each era of their existence. At the outset, the amusement parks were mostly segregated, and many of them set aside “Colored Day” once a year for black families to enjoy the park. During the lean years of the Great Depression, the amusement parks provided wholesome and affordable family entertainment that brightened many peoples’ difficult lives. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, beer flowed on the midways, and taverns sprung up in the surrounding communities. The Swing dance craze of the 1940s kept the dance halls packed with fans of the world-famous traveling Big Bands. The grand opening of the high-technology Disneyland theme park in 1955 forever changed public expectations for amusement park rides and attractions. By the 1960s, Americans could choose from an endless variety of leisure pursuits and recreation offerings that presented overwhelming competition to the aging, old-fashioned rides designed and built generations earlier. Many of America’s early amusement parks closed their gates in the 1960s and 1970s. Those that survived to become today’s theme parks benefited from a location that gave them room to expand, and an owner with the vision and bankroll to make the leap to modern technology.

In Ohio, Cleveland’s Euclid Beach was an example of the standard railway amusement park story. However, there was a twist to this story which made several of Ohio’s other early amusement parks unique. Three of the premier amusement parks of the 1920s, Buckeye Lake, Indian Lake’s Sandy Beach and Lake Milton’s Craig Beach, were built a considerable distance from cities on the shores of large lakes. The lakeside locations provided natural assets for recreation, and bathing beaches were a primary drawing card. Although they were served by mass transit systems, the amusement parks at Indian Lake and Lake Milton were built by individual entrepreneurs rather than rail companies.

sbThe communities of Buckeye Lake, Russels Point and Craig Beach blossomed around and because of the amusement parks. When the Ohio State Parks system was founded in 1949 with the creation of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Buckeye Lake and Indian Lake were designated as two of the original state parks. The amusement parks and the state parks served different purposes, but they coexisted in harmony, providing a variety of public benefits and community pride. Today the lakeside amusement parks live on only in photographs and memories. The state park lakes themselves remain, however, with the fine recreational facilities and staff that are the hallmarks of our Ohio State Park system, providing all the best for your amusement.


Indian Lake

il01In its original form, Indian Lake was a conglomeration of shallow natural lakes and marshes covering 640 acres in the northwest corner of Logan County. A bulkhead was built on the Great Miami River in the 1850s to enlarge and deepen the lake area to create a water supply for the new Miami Canal. The work was completed in 1860 and the resulting Lewistown Reservoir covered more than 6,000 acres with 29 miles of shoreline. At the turn of the century, railroads had come into vogue and the canals were abandoned for more efficient transportation. No longer needed for canal commerce, Lewistown Reservoir was designated by the Ohio General Assembly in 1898 as a public recreation area known by its historic name, Indian Lake. Indian Lake quickly became a popular resort area with its numerous islands and untamed shoreline touted as a secluded wilderness paradise offering supreme hunting, shooting and relaxation.

dhIn the early 1900s, Indian Lake became a leading destination to exercise the intellect as well as the body. The traveling Chautauqua Assemblies that swept the East and Midwest came to Indian Lake’s Orchard Island starting in 1910. These variety shows featured lectures and programs by a diverse roster of speakers and entertainers, including some famous and prominent figures such as the great orator William Jennings Bryant. Chautauqua drew such large crowds that a hotel and cottages were built on the island to accommodate out-of-town guests for the two-week gatherings in late July and early August. The village of Lakeview became a regularly scheduled stop in 1911 on the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad, and the Ohio Electric Line provided service to the burgeoning lakeside community known as Russells Point. The rail lines provided easy access to rural Indian Lake park from Lima, Columbus, Dayton and neighboring communities.

With so much to attract visitors to the area by the early 1920s, local businessman Pappy Wilgus saw an opportunity he couldn’t resist. Pappy and his son, French, built the Sandy Beach Amusement Park at Russells Point to entertain the growing numbers of tourists. Sandy Beach Amusement Park opened on Decoration Day, 1924. The highlight of the park was the fabulous Minnewawa Dance Hall, billed as the best and largest in Ohio, featuring two bandstands and room for hundreds of couples. The Minnewawa drew all the most popular touring performers of the day, including the Rudy Vallee and Paul Whiteman orchestras. The park also offered all of the favorite amusement rides including a roller coaster, merry-go-round, ferris wheel, Blue Beard’s castle, and Custer’s car ride, along with a penny arcade, fun house, boat excursions and food concessions. One of the more unique attractions was the Old Mill Shoot, in which boat-like cars plunged down a roller coaster hill into a tank of water, soaking all aboard. A boardwalk spanned the lake to give swimmers access to nearby Sandy Beach Island, a popular bathing area offering slides and diving towers.

As the “Roaring 20s” gave way to the Great Depression of the 1930s, “Ohio’s Million Dollar Playground” at Indian Lake lost none of its currency. Couples still crowded the amusement park for dance marathons which rewarded the most persistent couples with coveted cash prizes. The winners of the 1931 National Endurance Dance Marathon held at the park reputedly danced for an astounding 1,922 hours! Sandy Beach Amusement Park’s future looked rosy, but a disastrous fire in 1935 completely destroyed the Minnewawa dance hall, along with the wooden structures of the Old Mill Shoot, Custer Cars, Spa bathhouse and part of the roller coaster. A new park operator pumped $100,000 into improvements in 1936, took over management of most of the concessions, and rebuilt the dance hall in an open-air garden style. The most famous Big Bands booked the elegant new Moonlight Terrace Gardens at Sandy Beach Amusement Park in their tours. The bands played on, and twirling couples continued to dance until the early 1950s.

poIndian Lake was officially designated as one of the original Ohio State Parks under the jurisdiction of the new Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1949. The original park office was located in Russells Point, close to the hub of activity at the amusement park. The 1950s were a successful decade for both Sandy Beach Amusement Park and the new state park, as well as local business people who provided services to tourists. The celebration of Ohio’s sesquicentennial in 1953 was a huge event at the lake, drawing crowds estimated at 100,000. These untroubled glory days couldn’t last, however. The societal turmoil of the 1960s came to Indian Lake to pay annual visits starting July 4, 1961. Late that evening, rowdy patrons at the bars across the street from the amusement park sparked a riot that involved nearly 500 youths. The July 4th riot became an unfortunate tradition that plagued the community for a decade as the riots grew increasingly large and destructive each year. The riots dampened everyone’s business during what should be one of the busiest weeks of the year.

Indian Lake State Park’s family campground was built in the mid-1960s across the lake from Russells Point and the amusement park. The class-A campground was an immediate hit, and it brought a new audience to the area. Meanwhile, the quaint, old-fashioned Sandy Beach Amusement Park was renamed Indian Lake Playland in 1967, and it continued the struggle to compete with northwest Ohio’s immensely popular new theme park, Cedar Point, for nearly a decade. Indian Lake Playland did not reopen on Decoration Day 1976, and a few years later, the rides and concessions were torn down.

Today, Indian Lake State Park attracts nearly 1.5 million visitors each year with its top-notch campground, swimming and boating facilities.

Thanks to historian Bud Grandi for sharing a wealth of information and photos to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources where this article was posted.


DNA: Blue Jacket was American Indian
By Brian J. Evans Bellefontaine Examiner Staff Writer 04/15/06

historybluejacketBlue Jacket was a brave man and a savvy American Indian — well known, respected and honored in not just his hometown, which is the present day site of Bellefontaine, but also throughout the old northwest frontier. He lived in a log cabin and married a white woman. He was considered one of the greatest Shawnee war chiefs of all time — a predecessor of the famous Chief Tecumseh. Blue Jacket was a lot of things. But clearly, as illustrated by decades of research and recent DNA tests, he was not a white man. According to a recent scientific study conducted by genetic experts and historians in the Dayton area to be published in the September edition of the Ohio Journal of Science, Blue Jacket was all American Indian. He and Marmaduke Swearingen were not the same person, scientists have concluded, and the story so many have grown to love is false. For more than a century, popular historic accounts portrayed Blue Jacket as a white man of Dutch descent named Marmaduke Swearingen, who was captured by the Shawnee Indians at the age of 17. The myth claimed Swearingen ascended to the elite status of war chief after living among the Indians for years and earning their trust and respect. The story goes so far as to claim Marmaduke Swearingen even killed his own brother on the battlefield. None of this, however, is true, according to the conclusion of the report. The findings will be presented April 22 at the 115th annual meeting of the Ohio Academy of Science at the University of Dayton. “As you will recall, we did a DNA test in 2000,” said Fairborn historian Robert Van Trees, “ and Dr. (Dan) Krane (of Wright State University) indicated there was no relationship between the Swearingens and the Bluejackets.” Mr. Van Trees has researched the controversy for decades and was one of the first people to question stories that claimed Blue Jacket was a white man. “Unfortunately, there were no funds to use to write a report which we could share with the world,” he said In the fall, an anonymous donor gave a gift to Wright State suggesting Dr. Krane write the report, Mr. Van Trees explained. The 2000 study obtained DNA of descendants of both men — six male descendants of Blue Jacket and four of Swearingen — finding no common ancestor. “Being so tasked, Dr. Krane asked me to obtain a new ‘fresh’ set of DNA and I hit the road obtaining a dozen DNA specimens,” Mr. Van Trees said. Dr. Krane in turn contracted Marc Taylor in California to test the DNA. Dr. Krane asked Carolyn Rowland in his office to write the report. She has presented in Chicago, Seattle and now will give a presentation at the University of Dayton. The controversy surrounding Blue Jacket’s ethnicity is one the Examiner has explored extensively in the past. In 2002, the Examiner published an eight-part series exploring Blue Jacket. The stories — which still can be found on the Examiner’s Web site,, under the “Blue Jacket” link — listed numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies surrounding the myth. The controversy was fueled by former local author Allan Eckert’s The Frontiersmen. The book was the basis for Xenia’s popular outdoor drama Blue Jacket. Mr. Eckert recently moved to Corona, Calif., to research a book about the gold rush. In the series, experts said the fallacy began in 1877 with a story written by Thomas Jefferson Larsh (a descendant of Swearingen’s) in the Feb. 15 edition of the Ohio State Journal. The series also explained the chronological differences between the two men (records of Blue Jacket exist 20 years before Swearingen was born) and the historic descriptions of Blue Jacket as an Indian who at times needed an English translator and had children described as “half-bloods.” Mr. Van Trees’ first DNA tests, which were not scientific, and his research were included in the series along with comments from more than a dozen historical experts and authors from as far away as England.

Early Lakeview History


Lakeview is different from any other town in the county. It is built below the “sea level” of a large artificial body of water (Indian Lake).The first house was erected in 1881. The town was incorporated in 1884 with Elisha Houchins being Lakeview’s first Mayor.

The original school building on West Lake Street was in the same location where the present school is located. At one time, Lakeview School offered schooling only through the 10th grade.

In the early days, four passenger trains pulled by steam engines stopped in Lakeview each day to deliver mail and travelers, while freight trains also stopped daily to deliver coal and other staples. Although automobiles were becoming familiar in the area, the tracks remained the main means of transportation. Besides, no one would drive a car in the winter time. The first street car in Lakeview was in operation by 1908.

Along lakeview’s dirt streets were two restaurants, a harness shop, the McAlexander Brother’s Buggy, leather and automobile groceries, a bank, two bartbershops, a hardware store, the lumber yard, post office and several saloons.

Ice harvesting was quite active at that time. Local ice houses would harvest ice from the reservoir during the cold weather and pack the ice in sawdust until the warm weather came so residents could cool their ice boxes.

Excerpted from the Indian Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Newsletter.

History Excerpt
Chief Tarhe
Wyandot Warrior

In the earliest known times, all of Western Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were inhabited by the Miami Indians, who had been there so long that they had no tradition of ever living elsewhere. For an untold time they had been one of the most powerful and most numerous of the Northwest Indians.

chieftarheHowever, by the time the first white men came into this territory, their numbers and strength were already diminishing and there were numerous other Indian tribes in this territory. When the white men came, Indian Lake was in Shawnee territory although there were Delawares, Mingos, Senecas and Wyandots close by.

Closest to Indian Lake was the Wyandot town of Solomontown of which the warrior Tarhe was chief. This was located at a point which would now lie almost midway between Belle Center and Huntsville. The other was the Shawnee village of Lewistown, whose chief was Colonel John Lewis, an Indian who adopted his name from the white man because he favored it.

Some famous pioneers with romantic stories of their own were Isaac Zane, Robert Robitaille, and it is said, Simon Kenton, all of whom lived in the vicinity of what is now Zanesfield. Isaac Zane was captured by the Indians when but a boy of nine, along with his brother. His brother was ransomed two years later, but Chief Tarhe, who had no other heir, kept Issac for his own son. Isaac lived in Tarhe’s home for nine years and had as his playmate, Myeerah (Walk-in-the Water), the Chief’s daughter, and was mothered by Tarhe’s beautiful French Canadian wife. Torn between affection for his Indian family and his love for relatives, he finally returned to Virginia when the peace treaty of 1772 between the French and English released all captives.

In Virginia he entered political life and was elected to the House of Burgess. Nostalgia brought him back to the beautiful Myeerah, and when they were married Tarhe moved to Solomontown, leaving the young people in possession of the old home.

In August 1831, a final treaty with the Indians at Lewistown and Wapakoneta removed the Indians to territory on the Kansas River and left the land open entirely to settlers.

History and photo provided by the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce

History of the Villa Motel in Lakeview, Ohio

Thank you for this opportunity to let visitors know about the history of the Villa Motel of Indian Lake.

My great grandfather, Frank Stubbs, married Margaret Dixon. Frank worked for the State of Ohio director of the lake project of combining 5 little lakes fed by the Great Miami River into one massive lake. The moneys made from working for the State allowed Frank to purchase property west of the Lakeview harbor and property along side what is now St. Rt. 33 in Lakeview.

Frank and Margaret had 2 children: Frank A. Stubbs and Florence V. Stubbs/Sabbath my grandmother. Florence aka Trageta bought property from her mother and developed the Lake Shore Villa Restaurant and Villa Motel.

At Traget’s passing the property went to my mother Phyllis Boop and my aunt Liberty Belle Schaefer.

Today the property has been inherited by Gary and Judy Boop and my cousins Robert and Bonnie Schaefer owners of Schaefer’s Manufacturing in Lakeview.

The Villa Motel has had many changes from 2 bedroom cottages that used to rent from $8.00 to $10.00 a night in the early 1900’s to modern cottages, A-Frame Chalets and motel units. Change is good. Gary and Judy’s entire family still work the motel and cottages just as their ancestors did.

Alll in all the family has endeavored to maintain a clean and enjoyable vacation spot near beautiful Indian Lake for over 114 years.

Gary Boop

Our Lady of Fatima Shrine
ourladyThe statue of the Blessed Virgin, called Our Lady of Fatima, was erected during the summer of 1964 at Russells Point. The statue overlooks Indian Lake from the newly name location of St. Marys Point. 
The late George B. Quatman was responsible for the construction of the statue. Active in many civic affairs, he founded the San Juan Ballroom and Resort and made extensive improvements during his ownership. The resort was unique in that all proceeds from the enterprise went to charity. The cost of the construction of the shrine came from the operation of San Juan Park.

The shrine is dedicated to St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church and is maintained by the American Society of Ephesus, founded by Mr. Quatman. The Society is dedicated to the restoration of St. John the Apostle Basilica, the church of Mary and the house of Mary, located in Ephesus, Turkey. The Fatima Shrine at St. Marys Point will always be maintained by the Society through the Quatman family.

The story of Fatima began early one spring day in 1916 when three small children were taking their parent’s sheep out to pasture. They were natives of Fatima, Portugal, a small village 90 miles north of Lisbon. When it began to drizzle, the youngsters sought shelter in a nearby cove when suddenly a white globe of light appeared over the field moving toward them. The amazed children saw a beautiful young man in flowing white garments standing in the middle of the light. “Fear not, I am the angel of peace,” the man in the strange light said to the children, “pray with me.” He knelt on the ground and said, “Oh, my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” Bending low, the stranger recited this prayer three times with the children repeating it after him.During the summer, the same angel appeared to the children and encouraged them to pray. On May 13, 1917, a little more than a year after the angel’s first visit, Our Lady appeared to them for the first time. The children were watching over the sheep and it was a clear day. They saw lightning in the sky and feared a sudden spring storm, so they gathered their sheep and looked for shelter. A dazzling light appeared directly in their path above a little oak tree and the astonished children saw a lady standing in the light above the tree. She was so beartiful that they were never able to describe her beauty in terms they thought fitting. “It was a Lady clothed in white and brighter than the sun, radiating a light very intense and crystal clear.”The vision told the children, “Do not be frightened for I have come from Heaven and I want you to come here at this same hour on the 13th day of each month through October. Then I will tell you who I am and what I want. Say the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world and an end to war.” As she spoke, she opened her hands and they were bathed in a heavenly light that appreared to come directly from her hands.The lady continued to appear to the children and on one occasion told them, “When you see a night that is lit by a strange and unknown light, you will know it is the sign that God gives you that He is about to punish the world with another war and with hunger and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall appear to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month communion of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world.”On the night of January 24-25, 1938, all Europe was lighted by what some scientists called an aurora borealis, but which other scientists said was beyond being a natural phenomenon. Three months after the light was witnessed, Hitler’s armies were on the march.October 13, 1917, the last and most dramatic apparition, commonlyh called the “Miracle of the Sun” was witnessed by 100,000 people. This crowd was amazing since Fatima is ninety miles overland from Lisbon and there was no public transportation. It was raining and windy and the rain kept falling. Drops trickled down the women’s skirts of wool and striped cotton, making them heavy as lead. Bare feet of women and hob-nailed boots of men sloshed in the wide pools of muddy road. At one o’clock the rain stopped. The sun seemed to be getting darker. It seemed veiled in gauze and the people could look at it without strain. It began to change into a shining silver disk that grew until it broke through the clouds. Then the silvery sun, still shrouded in that grayish light, began to rotate and wander within the circle of the receded clouds. Thousands fell to their knees upon the muddy ground. The light then became a rare blue,spreading it’s rays and then the blue faded away and the light became filtered through yellow. Yellow spots fell upon the white kerchiefs and the dark skirts of wool. They were spots that repeated themselves over the landscape. All the people were weeping and praying, weighted down by the greatness of the miracle. All of this took about twelve minutes. When it was over, the people who were soaked discovered their clothes were dry. Portuguese newspapers gave detailed accounts and photographs the next day. Copies of the newspapers are on file in the U.S. Congressional Library. George B. Quatman wanted to impress on everyone who visits the statue at St. Marys Point of the message of Fatima: Offer up every day our sacrifices and our daily sufferings to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; say the rosary daily and to meditate on the mysteries; receive the sacraments on the first Saturday of every month; pray for the conversion of Russia and stop using profanity against God. This information is taken from the Memorial Day issue of The Indian Lake Beacon, May 25, 1988.

Our Lady Statue Marks 40-Year Vigil
By Sue Pitts
Examiner Staff Writer

Some 400 spectators gathered June 28, 1964, 40 years ago, for the dedication of the Our Lady of Fatima statue, located at the opening of Russells Point harbor behind the former amusement park owned by the late George Quatman.

In 1963, the late businessman and philanthropist George Quatman, owner of what was then known as the San Juan Amusement Park, commissioned Bowman and Armstrong Architects to construct the statue in Miami, Fla. His goal was to bring the lesson of the 1917 appearances of Our Lady of Fatima to the Indian Lake area, according to a 1964 Bellefontaine Examiner article.

Catholic Church history says the Virgin Mary appeared six times to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917.

Through the children, she relayed a message from God promising peace for the whole world if her requests were obeyed or punishment by means of war, hunger, persecution of the church and persecution of the Holy Father and the Pope if they were not met.

In her message of warning and hope, she said God had chosen Russia as the instrument of chastisement to punish the entire world if the nation did not convert to the Catholic faith and that profanity had to cease from the lips of man.

If the requests were not granted, she said wars and persecutions against the church would begin and various nations would be annihilated. Many in the faith believe Our Lady of Fatima predicted World War II and III and that entire nations would be destroyed in a single battle by an atomic bomb.

The children also were told that God would perform a miracle so that people would believe in the apparitions. On Oct. 13, 1917, before 70,000 witnesses, the sun “danced” in the sky above Fatima – rotating, increasing and decreasing in size and moving closer then farther away from the spectators.

Mr. Quatman chose to locate the shrine to the apparitions on what was known as St. Marys Point, at the end of Chase Avenue behind the former park location. Park visitors could get a closer look at the shrine as a small passenger train circled the park and ground she overlooked.

The statue stands 43 feet overall, with the Our Lady figure measuring 19 1/2 feet in height. Originally, a colored water display graced the base of the monument, 7 1/2 minutes of music played in 15-minute intervals and the statue rotated 360 degrees, but a flaw in the mechanism made repair constant and costly. The statue no longer rotates, but instead permanently faces the lake.

Proceeds from the San Juan park, all of which went to charity, funded the cost of building and erecting the monument that continues to be maintained by the American Society of Ephesus through the Quatman family.

Each year, St. Mary of the Woods officials conduct an outdoor Mass to commemorate the apparitions. This year, the event is set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15, at the shrine. Participants are to take lawn chairs.

Indian Lake’s First Post Office is moved. After the sale of the Wicker property several years ago, Mrs. Pusey had to decide what to do with the structure that once housed the area’s first post office. Hoping it would be refurbished and preserved, she donated the last salvageable piece of history from the heydays of Wicker’s Resort to the county historical group. Indian Lake State Park manager Frank Giannola, pushed to get the post office located on ODNR property and succeeded in obtaining a 15-year renewable lease with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Two grants from the Logan County Cooperative Community Connection Fund Inc. were vital components to making the project happen, as were the donations of time, materials, funds and labor from architect and ILAHS trustee Karen Beasley, contractor Eugene Pusey and assistant Jason Wilson, excavator Tom Cooper and company, Mr. Concrete, Ohio Lumber and Building Supply, Logan County Commissioners and a host of other individuals.

The building was moved to Dredge Island state property between Orchard and Wolf Islands.

Information excerpted from the Bellefontaine Examiner.

The gone, but not forgotten, Sandy Beach Amusement Park, Russells Point (Indian Lake), Ohio was memorialized with a Ohio state Historical Marker, on Saturday, July 30, 2004. A crowd of about two dozen gathered Saturday for the dedication of the Sandy Beach Amusement Park historical marker commemorating the days of the “Million Dollar Playground” where thousands upon thousands of visitors were entertained for nearly a half century.

According the the Bellefontaine Examiner. The park, which closed in the early 1980’s, was the home to an small out and back woodie (with NAD trains) and an old wild mouse coaster.

The memorial marker is located beside the Russells Point harbor the park once surrounded.

Lake History

Indian Lake, Ohio, covers 5,800 acres and year-round is popular for boating and fishing. Native Americans did once hunt in the area, which was on their trade route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were among the first white visitors.

Indian Lake is actually man-made, established in 1851 as “Lewistown Reservoir” to supply water for the shallow Erie Canal. After nine years’ work, primarily by Irish labourers excavating outward from the source of the Miami River, 1,000 acres was filled, but by then the canal system was already in decline.
By 1893 the reservoir spanned 6,334 acres, with 29 miles of shoreline. On April 9, 1898, the Ohio General Assembly dedicated the rechristened “Indian Lake” as a recreation area. Visitors arrived aboard the Toledo and Ohio Central Steamline and the Ohio Electric Railway.

At one time, Indian Lake was known as the “Midwest’s Million Dollar Playground”.

A Short History – Written by by K. Todd McCormick, Curator of the Logan County Historical Museum.

Two of Ohio’s major rivers begin in Logan County. A small stream flows into the waters of Indian Lake from the east and exits the lake in the south. This small stream becomes the Great Miami River. The hills of central Logan County provide the waters for the Mad River. The Mad River flows into the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio, about 60 miles from where they begin. Both of these rivers and their valleys have been important to Ohio’s inhabitants for housing, transportation, food and water.

Indian Lake is in the northwest corner of Logan County. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in Ohio. In 1850 the commissioners of the Miami-Erie Canal voted to build several lakes or reservoirs in west-central Ohio to feed or supply water to the canals. The Lewistown Reservoir (the original name of Indian Lake) was built between 1851-1857. It covered several thousand acres of woods, swamps and six small natural lakes, including one called Indian Lake. Consequently, many trees and islands (high ground) poked through the surface. This made fishing great but boating dangerous. Over the next several decades the lake was cleaned up by dredging it. When the lake was frozen in the winter men went out onto the ice and cut the tops of trees that were above the surface. The reservoir continued to feed the canals until 1896 when the canals ceased to be used on regular basis.

In 1898 the state of Ohio made the Lewistown Reservoir into a state park and renamed it Indian Lake. The new Indian Lake State Park became a popular vacation place. The surrounding towns of Russells Point and Lakeview, as well as some of the islands, built hotels, restaurants and marinas to accommodate all of the tourists. Fishing, boating and swimming became popular recreational activities for the lake’s visitors and residents. During the winter season people went ice fishing and ice skating.

Millions of vacationers came to Indian Lake for other types of entertainment. In the mid-1920s, S. L. Wilgus and his son built a boardwalk and roller coaster in Russells Point and named the park Sandy Beach. Over the years it grew into a popular amusement park. People from all over the county, state and Midwest came to the park. The park closed in the early 1970s due to its run down condition and competition for larger amusement parks.

Many people also came to Indian Lake to listen and dance to some of the country’s most popular bands and orchestras. Musicians who played at the lake’s pavilions and dance halls included Duke Ellington, Ozzie Nelson, Les Brown and many, many more.