A Look Into Springfield College’s History With Lake Massasoit

Vincent Gallo

Staff Writer
@VinGallo731

mass1
Photos Courtesy of Drew Broffman

As the second largest man made body of water that resides in Massachusetts, Lake Massasoit, nestled between Springfield College and the city of Springfield, is a lake that can be expressed through time. It has seen it all. Its story can be illustrated through the archives beneath Judd Gymnasium.

Massasoit has seen a cold, overcast day in the twilight of December. Ice harvesters are out on the heart of the lake. They breathe heavily, their breath clearly visible on the below-freezing air, with flurries steadily falling. They dig their saws into Massasoit’s solid ice surface, the whinny of horses across the lake are an easing sound of reinforcement; wagons thundering across the lake, and dismissing the need to carry the masses of ice back to shore.

Its shores have seen epic tugs-of-war in the annual rope pull between Springfield College’s freshmen and sophomores. It was a friendly competition, yet much was at stake. It was a thrilling, playful battle for the sophomores, and the freshman drive was fueled with playful contesting as well. Yet sweat accumulated on their foreheads in the semi-humid spring air, their hearts shaking with anticipation in attempt to best their second-year counterparts. If victorious they would be permitted to remove their freshman beanies early.

Then there were the rest of Massasoit’s qualities which were enjoyed for a time. The daily visits of the fanatical fisherman who is in search for bass, carp, trout, and bluegills. The presence of its companion in the Springfield Armory up until 1968. The everyday Springfield College aquatic and rowing classes.

The hundreds of visitors who would take to the lake in its frozen state to skate, a picturesque example of winter harmony. The presence of parched visitors in the dog days of summer seeking a swim or trip in a canoe. The occasional visit of two significant others sitting by the shore, who are just trying to be together and forget about life for a while.

mass3Yet in spite of all the good, it has seen an abundance of tragedy. The automobile accident that was discovered in 1941, that claimed the life of World War I veteran David W. Lee and his family (who had disappeared many years before), the tornado of 2011 that ripped away its surrounding flora acquaintances, and its own slow descent into grime, contamination, and unsightliness.

No, Lake Massasoit is not what it used to be like in its prime. Just ask the students of Springfield College nowadays. Senior Heather Lewis said, “We can’t swim in [Lake Massasoit]; we might come out with an extra finger.”

“There has to be a bunch of dead bodies or some kind of monster living in there,” said freshman Josh Shuman.

Freshman Kieran Hannigan walked into his friend’s Reed Hall dorm and took a look at his view. “Aw, sweet,” he said. “You get a view of the Massatoilet?!”

The blue, clear water Lake Massasoit is dead. It has been reduced to a half-jade, half-auburn coloring. Its main source for its pollution is due to runoffs from the urbanized areas upstream via storm drain. “[Chemicals such as] phosphorous, nitrogen, and laundry detergent from the streets around here get into the water, which creates bacteria,” said Springfield College Professor of Environmental Biology Justin Compton. “It’s pretty common in an urban environment.”

However, runoffs are not the only source of its uncleanliness.

“Historically, it was used by the Springfield Armory,” said Compton. “[They used it] as a testing area. There’s heavy metals in there such as lead.”

Those who built Massasoit also destroyed it. The lake was created by man in the damming of the Mill River, yet was tarnished by human pollution, ushered in by surrounding runoffs. To correct Massasoit’s current condition would take approximately $26 million. The final nail in the coffin was planted in 1984, when it closed for swimming, and it has been closed ever since.

“If you drank the water [today] it could be really hazardous,” Compton said. “Some of the bacteria can actually be toxic. If you jumped in and didn’t open your mouth, you’d probably be fine, but you might get a rash.”

The old Lake Massasoit may be gone forever, its only visitors now are the occasional flock of Canadian geese. Yet one can always witness the phantom of its former self, its former beauty. The phenomenon occurs on every clear morning, when the sun reaches up from over Roosevelt Street Bridge. The rays reach out and touch the lake’s surface, and the water lights up, shimmering, just as it would have decades ago.

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