It was the gift of the Scottish-American steel maker, Andrew Carnegie. He had built a number of lochs in Scotland and was easily persuaded to finance one for Princeton by Howard Russell Butler and his brother, William Allen Butler, both of the Class of 1876. They and some of their college friends were determined that undergraduates should have a better place for rowing than the old canal that had been tried in the 1870s and found wanting.
The Butlers succeeded where James McCosh and Woodrow Wilson failed. President McCosh had made repeated efforts to interest his fellow Scot in his plans for the College but without success. Meeting Carnegie at the railroad station on one visit, McCosh told him how honored he was to welcome him to Princeton. Carnegie replied that he had always had a warm spot in his heart for Princeton, to which Mrs. McCosh replied with spirit, ``Indeed, Mr. Carnegie, we have seen no evidence of it as yet.''
While the negotiations for the lake were in progress President Wilson tried unsuccessfully to interest Carnegie in making a substantial contribution to the endowment of either the graduate school or the preceptorial system. Later when Wilson again asked for help and Carnegie answered, ``I have already given you a lake'' (Ray Stannard Baker relates), Wilson replied, ``We needed bread and you gave us cake.''
But the general response to Carnegie's formal presentation of the lake on December 5, 1906, was enthusiastic. Carnegie came down from New York in a special train with five dozen friends. President Wilson, Dean Fine, and M. Taylor Pyne met them at the station, which was then at the foot of the Blair Arch steps. Climbing the steps, Carnegie smiled at a banner that hung from an undergraduate's room in Blair Tower with the words ``Welkum to the Laird of Skeebo [the name Carnegie had given his estate in Scotland].'' Later when the academic procession, led by Wilson and Carnegie, arrived in Alexander Hall for the ceremonies, his smile broadened as students in the balcony suddenly began to sing, to the tune of the then popular song ``Tammany,''
He is giving us a lake
You can hear the breakers break;
Andy, Andy, you're a dandy
The creation of Lake Carnegie did more than provide a place for undergraduate rowing, and for canoeing, sailing, fishing, and skating by members of the Princeton community. Aside from the aesthetic and healthful advantages that resulted from flooding a large marshy area, Carnegie's gift involved the purchase of hundreds of acres adjacent to the lake, giving the University invaluable room for development it might not otherwise have been able to secure.
In the 1960s it became apparent that Lake Carnegie was being threatened by some of the problems that beset larger bodies of water. One problem, reflecting poor land use over three decades, was the accumulation of sediment washed in by Stony Brook from the communities it drains. The other problem was the more recent, rapid deposit of sewage carried by the Millstone River from nearby towns, where expansion of sewage treatment facilities had not kept pace with rapid growth of population. Extensive dredging was undertaken to solve these problems in the early 1970s.
Go to Search A Princeton Companion