About Lake St. Catherine, Vermont
No one knows for sure how Lake St. Catherine got its name. To the early settlers the waters were simply wells pond or Lake Austin, but thought to have come from a family by that name at the North End. A dam at the outlet of the lake has been an important factor in regulating the depth of the water. The first dam was built around 1800 and stood upstream just around the bend from the current dam. Traveling in a boat you can still see the remains laying 4 or 5 feet under the water level. The dam provided power for a sawmill and wagon shop.
Lake St. Catherine Hotels
Over the years Lake St. Catherine has been home to some Great hotels: The Lake House which burned in 1876, The Lake St. Catherine Hotel which stood on the site of the present cottage No. 114, was in operation from 1859 through 1909, and Lake View In The Pines which stood where the current day Vermont State Park is was erected in 1876 and burned down in 1916.
In this photo: In the distance is the boat launch for The Lake View In The Pines Hotel (Where the current State Park “Big Stairs” are) as well the steeple for the church located on the property.
In this Photo: The steam boat Grace B. Underwood which delivered mail on the lake from the post office located in The Lake View In The Pines Hotel; The roof of The Lake St. Catherine Hotel located on the point; Forest House located in the bay at the far side of the photograph.
Recreation on the lake
The Lake has also been home to may dance halls and recreation centers such as Idylwild Pavilion which stood on the west side of the lake from 1914 to 1969, The Forest House which was built in 1900 torn down and rebuilt in 1913 housed a dance hall, grocery store and amusement area. As well as some notable cottages such as Ferncliff whose founder built a The “Swing Bridge” across the narrows at the North side of that lake that was in place till the 1930’s.
In this photo: The “Swing Bridge” across the Narrows on the North side of the lake where the lilly pond connects to the lake.
In 1776 a wooden plank bridge was built across the the inlet between the lower pond and the main lake at the current site of the Lake St. Catherine Marina.
From “A Natural Resource Planning Study of Wells, Vermont” Prepared by Raymond Lobdell, February, 1975.
“Lake St. Catherine is a large, long lake of 930 acres which begins at the Lily Pond in Poultney and drains south into Wells. The lake has a maximum depth of 68 feet, an average depth of 32.2 feet, and a volume of” 29,945 acre feet (36,937,000 m³). “It is about five miles long and drains into a narrow channel which connects it with Little Pond.
“Little Pond is a shallow lake of about 181 acres, with an average depth of two feet, a maximum depth of only four feet and a volume of” 362 acre feet (447,000 m³). “The lake bottom is covered by a thick layer of silt and organic matter.”
From “Lake St. Catherine: A Historical Scrapbook” Complied by Iris Hopson Read Copyright: 1979
No one knows for sure how Lake St. Catherine got its name. To the early settlers the waters were simply Wells Pond or Lake Austin, also a term of uncertain origin but thought to have come from a family by that name at the North End. In Thompson’s Vermont Gazetter, the lake is called St. Augustine and at least on one old map so designates it, while others, including Mitchell’s Universal Atlas of 1854, give “Lake Austin”. Some people think that the more familiar “Austin” is a contraction of Augustine.
In 1869, Hiland Paul, the local historian, wrote “We are of the opinion that the name St. Catherine as applied to this lake is of New York origin, as the oldest inhabitants of the town, who are over eighty years of age, do not remember of hearing it called otherwise than Lake Austin or Lake St. Austin.”
In her book Vermont Place Names, Esther Swift says that in 1771 New York patented a town named St. Catherine, in nostalgic remembrance of St. Catherin’s Point on the Isle of Wight, the last land seen by the British emigrants as they left England. She adds that when the Green Mountain Boys ran the Yorkers out, they kept the pleasant-sounding name for the lake.
There are other stories and legends but the accepted belief, locally, at least, is that “St. Catherine” was so called by the Jesuits, who came, perhaps before the eighteenth century, carrying on their daring missionary work with the Indians. There is one story which says that two Jesuit priests arrived at the lake on November 25, St. Catherine’s Day, and for that reason bestowed her name upon the waters.
The first known written record of “St. Catherine” is on a survey map which was registered in Albany, New York, in 1767. This document grants 5000 acres of land “in the County of Albany… on the west side of a lake called St. Catherine’s” to one Col. Maunsell. Of course, all such New York claims were invalidated as Vermont history developed.
Most of the inlets and points around the lake are still known by the name of the one who first settled nearby- Atwater’s Bay, Hall’s Bay, Cone’s Point, etc. Obviously Ox Bow and Horseshoe Bays were so called because of their shape. The inlet commonly called Forest House Bay (though the term has little significance at present) was originally Bowe’s Bay, for Amos Bowe, an outstanding man of the early era. He was the great grandfather of Mrs. Philip Connell who, with her husband, now owns cottage No. 7. It is interesting to note that the land surrounding this inlet, at present a popular bathing beach, was mentioned in an early Wells history as a prosperous farm.
The dam at the outlet of the lake has been an important factor in the St. Catherine story through the years for it has regulated the depth of the water and has made possible various industries. The Wells Historical Society has in its possession a petition (called a “memorial”) of one Joseph Lamb, believed to have been written about 1800, asking the town to grant him permission to build a dam. This document, still beautifully legible, reads in part as follows:
“Being situate on the stream at the outlet of the Great Pond in sd. Wells where your memorialist hath a larg Quanity of good white Pine, oak and other valuable timber for Boards, Planks and other Materials for Building… wherefore a good sawmill Erected on the stream aforesd. must greatly to the advantage and utility of the inhabitants of the town in genral as well as to your memorialist in perticular… would humbly pray that he may have the liberty to build a dam to raise the water of sd. pond only thirty-seven inches.”
We do not know if this “memorial” was granted but it seems that soon after 1800 the first dam was built and it made possible not only a sawmill but many other small industries. One of these, also at the outlet but at a somewhat later date, was a wagon shop which did business for many years. On the stream which flows out of the lake, known as Mill Brook or Pond Brook, there were several businesses, including a wood working shop which made coffins and other articles. There were three successive woolen mills, all on the same site, the first built in1795. The third and last, the famous Lake Austin Knitting Mill, was one of the largest manufacturing establishments in the entire area in the late eighteen hundreds. There was also a tannery, a cheese factory and a grist mill. The latter, built in 1808, is still standing. Today one seldom thinks of Lake St. Catherine as a source of energy but throughout much of the nineteenth century when industry depended on water power, the lake, with its dam, and the brook which flowed out of it, played a vital role in maintaining the small factories which were the life blood of the period.
Modern scholarship indicates that the entirety of Lake St. Catherine is really a system of three lakes that include Lilly Pond, Lake St. Catherine and Little Lake—interconnected by navigable channels. In about 1900, the Vermont Fish and Game Agency again dammed the wet land now called Little Lake by raising a 7 foot dam at the point where Mill Brook crosses under North Avenue. The present Little Lake now is about 4–6 feet deep.