100 Years of Lake Decatur History

As you can imagine, there is a lot of history that happened throughout the first 100 years of Lake Decatur’s existence. We will honor that history with weekly posts on the  opens in a new windowCity of Decatur’s Facebook page, and on this page, up until the Centennial Lake Fest in July. Learn more about festivities to celebrate the Centennial at opens in a new windowwww.decaturil.gov/lakedecatur100/

The weekly posts certainly won’t cover all the history! For additional historical posts, and to share your own, check out our separate opens in a new windowFacebook group. If you are unable to upload your pictures/documents online, you can visit the opens in a new windowStaley Museum or the opens in a new windowDecatur Public Library History Room during regular business hours and they will help with your Lake history submission.


1. Staley Pump House/Club House – 1919

Staley Pump House - early construction

A permanent dam to create Lake Decatur was slated to begin construction in July 1920, but something had to be done immediately. In the fall of 1919, A. E. Staley Sr. was given permission to create a temporary dam and build a pumping station. The Staley Pump House was completed and began operations in 1920.

The lower level, all machinery, pumped water to the Staley manufacturing plant, while the upper level was the Staley Club House. People could reach the clubhouse by boat, train, and boardwalk. A model of the pump house is on display at The Staley Museum.



2. Construction of the dam – 1920

Excavation for the dam foundation
Construction of the dam

Mayor Charles M. Borchers turned the first shovel of dirt in July of 1920 as the dam construction began. Temporary coffer dams were put in place as part of the process. It’s reported they used 30,000 barrels of concrete to construct the dam before finally being complete in 1922.

The City’s South Water Treatment Plant has an archive of plenty more photos of the dam construction opens in a new windowonline here. And a short timeline presentation is also available opens in a new windowhere.



3. 4-Day Celebration & A World-Record Swim – 1923

Johnny Weissmuller and his silver trophy

Lake Decatur was filled to capacity during the summer of 1923. The citizens planned a 4-day celebration with fireworks, rowing & boat races, water polo, airplane exhibitions, and more. 25,000 people attended.

July 4, 1923 – Johnny Weissmuller, famed Olympic gold medal winner and original portrayer of Tarzan in film, swam in five races during the day’s series of water sporting events. He won a silver trophy, worth $200 and offered by A.E. Staley Sr., for being the first to break a world record during the contests. Weissmuller lowered the record for the 500-meters in open water to six minutes and fifty-five seconds.



4. Coming 3-29-23