Discover the Oldest Man-Made Lake in Virginia

Ornate wooden bridge over very calm Crim Dell pond on campus of William and Mary college in Williamsburg Virginia
Steve Heap/

Written by Claire Wilson

Published: December 14, 2023

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Description of the Oldest Man-Made Lake in Virginia

Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, Lake Matoaka occupies the western part of the College of William & Mary’s campus. The surface area is about 42.24 acres and is about 16 feet deep at its deepest part. It also has a max elevation of 22 feet. There is a dam on the south side of the lake, which the Jamestown Road crosses over. Additionally, Lake Matoaka’s waters empty into College Creek.

Originally created as a mill pond, Lake Matoaka has many types of fish inhabiting its waters, such as largemouth bass, black crappie, longnose gar, and bullhead catfish.

History of Lake Matoaka

Lake Matoaka in Virginia is the oldest man-made lake.

Lake Matoaka was an open watercourse of streams and wetlands known as Archer’s Hope Swamp.

Formed between 1700 and 1750, Lake Matoaka is the oldest man-made lake in Virginia. It was originally an area of streams and wetlands known as Archer’s Hope Swamp. However, Philip Ludwell, the deputy secretary of the Colony of Virginia, purchased the land and dammed the main creek, College Creek. This formed a mill pond called Rich Neck Pond or Ludwell’s Mill Pond. Ludwell’s Mill Pond was used to power the constructed gristmill, which ground cereal grain into flour.

The gristmill changed ownership several times over the next century before the mill was destroyed in 1863. In the 1920s, the College of William & Mary acquired the area and changed the name of Ludwell’s Mill Pond to Lake Matoaka after Chief Powhatan’s daughter, though her nickname was Pocahontas.

Recreational Activities at Lake Matoaka

Ornate wooden bridge over very calm Crim Dell pond on campus of William and Mary college in Williamsburg Virginia

This gorgeous bridge crosses Crim Dell, the neck of Lake Matoaka.

Residents enjoy winter sports like ice skating on Lake Matoaka and cross-country skiing around the lake. Lake Matoaka is frequently closed to swimmers during the summer because of poor water quality. This is an issue the lake has struggled with as far back as the 1980s when multiple sewage spills polluted the water, and swimming was prohibited for an extended time. Today, Lake Matoaka will often rate hypereutrophic, with severe algal blooms and high phosphorus levels.

There is a boathouse where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes to explore the lake. Fishing is also a popular pastime along the banks of Lake Matoaka. Despite the lake’s varying water quality, many species of fish and turtles live there. Fishermen often come here to catch largemouth bass or bluegills, among other types of fish in Lake Matoaka.

Additionally, more than 10 miles of trails surround Lake Matoaka. Many appreciate the gorgeous woods surrounding Lake Matoaka, which are perfect for family walks, hiking, or even fitness training.

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About the Author

Claire Wilson is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, travel, and historic places and landmarks. Claire holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Wisconsin, Claire enjoys hiking, visiting parks, and biking nature trails.

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