Colonial Lake Through the Centuries

Flip through the black and white photos of Colonial Lake from the early 20th century and look very much like the color photos of Colonial Lake today. The lake and its surrounding pathways, benches and green space haven’t changed much. The trees are a little taller but the essence of the park as a community gathering space remains the same.

While long-time residents probably feel like Colonial Lake has just “always been there,” they might not realize how true that is. The lake was constructed between 1881 and the 1890s. Caspar Chisolm oversaw the work, which included building the oyster shell sidewalks (1882-1889); deepening the pond (1882) and building the concrete retaining walls (1882-1885). During that period, oak trees were planted and benches were instilled. The water supply came through a 36-foot brick culvert with double gates 4 feet wide and 5 feet high.

Once “Colonial Park” – as it was referred to at that time – was completed, it didn’t take long for the community to flock to the lake’s outer edges for recreation and social time. By the early 1900s, boating and fishing were among the most popular activities at the lake.

By the 1960s and into the 1980s, fishing and boating at Colonial Lake declined, and the park, over the years, transitioned to what we see today – a picturesque spot for walking the dog, jogging or pushing a baby stroller.

As Colonial Lake moves into a new phase of major renovation, we can’t wait to see how the community will respond and how it will choose to make use of this vital public space.

Historical details courtesy of Nic Butler, Ph.D., special collections manager at Charleston County Public Library.

Share your stories, photos, videos and memories of Colonial Lake. Those can be submitted via email to or via social media using the hashtag #coloniallake. Find the Conservancy on Facebook at, on Twitter and Instagram @charlestonparks.

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