Lake Calhoun is the largest and deepest lake
in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes
, with a total surface area of 401 acres and a maximum depth of 82 feet. An artificial canal
on the lake's northern side linking it to Lake of the Isles
was opened in 1911 and remains in use today. The lake was named in the early 19th century by explorers sent at the behest of then-Secretary of War John C. Calhoun
, who also authorized the construction of Fort Snelling
and thus allowed for the settlement of the region. Through the early twentieth century, the lake was also known by one of several alternate names such as Lake of the Loons, Lake Medoza or Lake Mendoza. The latter two names were derived from the Dakota
name for the lake, Mde Me'doza (which, appropriately enough, means Lake of the Loons).
When the first explorers reached Lake Calhoun in the 1820s, they found it was at the center of a bustling Native American community. A large settlement called Marh'piya Wicasta (Village of Cloud Man) was located just east of the lake. While the swampy coastline prevented them from living directly on the lake, the native Dakota extensively fished the lake and harvested its wild rice and native fruits and berries. The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, signed in 1851, relocated these Dakota along with many others across the region to open more land for incoming settlers.
Initial development didn't reach the area near the lake until the 1870s, when the region began to experience a population boom that pushed settlement away from the Mississippi River. The lake became a notable tourist attraction for those seeking peace and tranquility, offering a large hotel for visitors and a double-decker steamship that offered trips around the lake itself. As the area became more and more settled, those looking for a peaceful escape looked to increasingly distant lakes such as Lake Minnetonka instead. The lake's famous hotel was eventually destroyed in a fire and steamship tours were discontinued in favor of those in more lucrative waters.
In 1883, the citizens of Minneapolis overwhelmingly approved a referendum to establish an independent board to help preserve the city's parks and natural areas. Charles Loring, the first president of the Minneapolis Park Board, almost immediately began an aggressive program of buying up parkland across the city. Among the areas Loring took an interest in was Lake Calhoun. Considering that all of the land surrounding the lake was privately owned, the idea of effectively buying the entire lake was a bold one. It would take twenty-six years and approximately $125,000, but in 1909 the Minneapolis Park Board secured the final parcels of private land on Lake Calhoun and established it as a park.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the park board then spent another sixteen years developing the lake itself. The lake's coastal wetlands were dredged and filled in, coastlines were smoothed, and roads were built following its shoreline. On the northern edge of the lake, the aforementioned canal connecting it to Lake of the Isles was dug and a boathouse and bathhouse were built to encourage recreation. Boating and sailing clubs began to appear and large-scale residential development -- particularly along the northern edge of the lake -- appeared in turn. Very quickly, the lake became a focal point for recreational activity and urban development in Minneapolis.
As with most of Minneapolis's lakes, recent efforts have been made to help restore the lake's original ecology. During the 1980s, trees and shrubs that more accurately reflected the lake's natural biome were planted. Based on successes at Cedar Lake, the very same natural wetlands that were originally filled in have been formed once again in an attempt to limit runoff and improve the lake's water quality.
Today Lake Calhoun is perhaps the most visited part of the Chain of Lakes. The lake is encircled by both walking and biking trails (one lap of the lake running just over three miles) that directly connect to the city's other lakes. It is home to three public beaches on the northern, eastern, and southern shores. A boathouse still exists on the lake's northeastern shoreline (adjacent to the canal) where canoes and kayaks can be rented by the hour and small boats can be launched. Two fishing docks are located on the western and eastern shores, offering primarily sunfish but also the occasional northern pike, walleye or bass. And if none of that tickles your fancy, there's always the playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, and more picnic areas, benches and open grassy knolls than it is even worth enumerating.