To the native American Nipmucks, the lake was “the pickerel fishing place.” To the early Colonial settlers moving westward, it was an obstacle to the more fertile hills of what is now Worcester.
Lake Quinsigamond’s gravely shores were of no use to the area’s early farmers, and so it was not until Americans were ready to cultivate the concepts of leisure and recreation that the lake drew much attention.
In the middle of the 19th century, crew racing became an important catalyst to the recreational development. The long, narrow waterway proved ideal for regattas, or boat races. Soon, several private boating clubs, canoe clubs, social clubs, parks and bathing beaches dotted the shores.
One such club, the Tatassit Canoe Club, was founded by a group of men in 1889, and the group built a clubhouse on Plum Island in 1891. By 1928, the club had disbanded and the land was bought and developed into the Tatassit Bathing Beach, which boasted the Monster Water Toboggan and the Aerial Chute. The old clubhouse was transformed into a nightclub and restaurant called the Hi-Hat.
Several ethnic organizations also established clubs on the lake’s shores. Those of German descent built the Frohsinn Club, which is still very active today. Residents of Swedish heritage built the Svea Gill clubhouse, and those of Irish descent built the Washington Club on 142 South Quinsigamond Ave. in 1887.
As Worcester prospered, merchants pressed for more direct access between Worcester and Boston. Efforts to build a bridge spanning the midsection of the lake were hampered by the great depth of the water. The first attempt, a floating bridge built in 1806, proved to be unsafe. A second attempt in 1817 ended in disaster when the bridge collapsed into the lake. A third bridge built in 1818 became too weak for heavy loads. In 1861, an earthen causeway was constructed. It provided ample support for road traffic, but also created a roadblock for larger boats, particularly steamboats, traveling from the south part of the lake to the north. As a result, the wider section of the lake south of the causeway, which was better suited to recreation, became developed, while the section north of the causeway lagged. It was proposed that the earthen causeway be removed and a suitable bridge be constructed that would beautify the lake and thus elevate its recreational character. The bridge was completed in 1919.
A few businessmen recognized the lake’s potential as a premier resort area. One such entrepreneur was J.J. Coburn. He bought Ramshorn Island and built Quinsigamond House Hotel in 1867. He provided steamboat service on the lake and later developed what would come to be called Lincoln Park, which offered picnic areas, boat rides, concerts, fireworks and would eventually include amusements, a dance hall, theater and roller skating rink.
Colburn was also instrumental in developing the Worcester and Shrewsbury Railroad, which linked Union Station to Lincoln Park. The Dummy Railroad, so called because the engines were built to resemble horse carriages so as not to startle horses, was a huge success and transported thousands of city-dwellers to the lake’s shores. The narrow-gauge railroad was eventually replaced by trolleys. The line came to an end in the 1920s.
Another Worcester businessman who understood the appeal of Quinsigamond’s sparkling waters and wooded shores was Horace H. Bigelow. He purchased much of the land surrounding the lake and built summer homes. He preserved a section on the southeast side as Quinsigamond Forest, where visitors could take a leisurely strolls through the woods.
Bigelow had another dream: to build a world-class amusement park on the lake. White City was officially opened to the public on June 18, 1905. The park, one of many across the nation to be called White City, was named after a popular attraction at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Bigelow was a big promoter of electricity and he boasted the park was a land of “Fifty Thousand Electric Lights.” Over the years its many attractions included the "Shoot The Chutes" boat rides, the "Whirl Of Captive Airships" ride, a "Miniature Railway" train, "The Whip," a Fun House, a dance hall, a roller coaster called "Zip" and various food courts, side shows and concession stands. There were high wire acts and high divers. There was a carousel and a roller skating rink. There was a pony track for youngsters. There were even high-diving horses. Celebrities who performed at White City included Jerry Vale, Bobby Darin, Paul Anka and Edie Gorme.
Following World War II the movement to further upgrade the lake's recreational
character slowly gained momentum among prominent Worcester area citizens and
organizations. In 1952 the Olympic rowing trials were held at Lake Quinsigamond.
National publicity of this event accorded the lake status to bring about the
enactment of legislation creating 2 state parks, Quinsigamond
State Park and Regatta Point State Park.
Ultimately, Lake Quinsigamond’s “success” proved to be its greatest risk, as Worcester’s urban areas encroached on the lake and endangered its water quality and picturesque setting.
Today, Lake Quinsigamond faces many challenges. It enjoys the status as being the largest metropolitan lake in the East. Its unique recreational aspects continue to flourish. In September 2002, the Donahue Rowing Center expanded to 10 bays making it the largest rowing facility in the USA. However, its semi-metropolitan nature and highly populated shores present a continual challenge for pollution prevention.
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