Time and Change is a weekly series highlighting the history of some of Ohio State's storied traditions.
Legend has it that when looking at land owned by William Neal to build the new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, which would later be known as The Ohio State University, trustees stumbled upon a spring in which they stopped to drink from. This spring inspired the trustees to purchase the land on which it resided and thus Ohio State found its home.
A 1984 report by John H. Herrick on the history of Mirror Lake Hollow debunked this claiming that Mirror Lake originated from pools of spring water formed from the cleanup of the ravine that ran through campus in 1874. But, I like the sound of the folk story better.
The Lake continued to grow and expand over the 1890’s seemingly from the pools of spring water.
In 1920, a wind storm caused major damage to the areas surrounding the Lake causing the shape and size of Mirror Lake to change. In 1935, the bottom of Mirror Lake and the border around it were paved with bricks to stop erosion of the Lake.
The water supply for the Lake in the late 1800’s caused it to dry up repeatedly. The class of 1927 is credited with the installation of a well with a pump to supply the water to Mirror Lake to avoid it drying up again.
The classes of 1927, 1929 and 1930 all contributed to the fund to renovate the Lake and the bubbling Memorial Fountain was built in their honor.
The well caused a strong sulfur presence in the water, and a combination of a chemical treatment and a new fountain supplying water from the Olentangy River fixed this issue. This fountain was abandoned after algae and contaminated water infiltrated the Lake.
In 1977, a large fountain was placed in the middle of the Lake along with a pump to combat algae and keep the water clean. The pump in the fountain was upgraded in 1978 and remained functional until Mirror Lake’s most recent renovation.
Many different student activities and traditions took place near Mirror Lake.
The Browning Amphitheatre, a site for many plays, was dedicated in 1926 on the southeast side of Mirror Lake. Commencement activities took place near the shores of the Lake as early as 1884.
It soon became a tradition to dunk others into the Lake. Many May Week Activities occurred near the Lake including an annual tug-of-war across the Lake. In 1902, a group of sophomores known as the Smoke Eaters set strict rules for Freshmen and breaking these rules resulted in an unexpected dip in the lake.
Some of the rules for Freshmen included: no walking on the long, stone path on the Oval that now leads up to Thompson Library and wearing the identifiable Freshman beanie.
President Rightmire quickly put an end to these rules, thank God.
In the 90’s, Mirror Lake became the site of the popular Mirror Lake Jump during Michigan Week. Tragedy in 2015 led to the end of the jump and the most recent major renovation of Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake also became the home for the beloved Afro Duck, may he rest in peace.
In Fall of 2018, Mirror Lake reopened after a nearly two-year restoration project. This renovation aimed to restore the Lake to a more natural state. It may look different, but the historical landmarks surrounding it have remained.