By Peter H. Milliken
The centennial of the dam that created Lake Milton, a well-known recreational attraction for generations of northeast Ohio residents, will be observed this week by the local historical society.
The Lake Milton Historical Society will commemorate the occasion during a 10:30 a.m. Saturday ceremony at the Lake Milton State Park Beach and Amphitheatre.
That event, located off Grandview Avenue, will feature remarks by local dignitaries including Youngstown Mayor John McNally, a performance by the Jackson-Milton High School Band and a parade of pleasure boats that will include some antique boats.
On display at that celebration will be a 12-foot scale replica of the Elizabeth of Craig Beach, a 40-foot tour boat that operated on the 1,685-acre lake from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Antique cars also will be on display. A party at the Lake Milton Amphitheater will take place from 5 to 11 p.m.
Construction of the dam along the Mahoning River began in 1913, and the lake behind it was filled by the spring rains of 1917.
The 10 billion-gallon lake was created to increase the industrial water supply for Youngstown, but quickly became a major regional recreational asset.
“It was very important to the city of Youngstown because that was the water supply for the steel mills,” said Sally Smolek, whose ancestors first settled in the Lake Milton area in 1811 and who is president of the Lake Milton Historical Society.
The construction site for the dam, which was then the Mahoning Valley’s largest building project, drew thousands of spectators to rural Milton Township, with businesses being formed to accommodate those visitors.
That township was Mahoning County’s most sparsely populated township when the project began.
“The Lake Milton dam was the very first dam to create a big lake in this whole area, which is why so many people came to see it being erected,” said Sally Wagner of Lake Milton, treasurer and historian with the local historical society.
“Even as the dam was being constructed, developers were swooping in and buying the farmland,” she added.
“The dam is what makes the Lake Milton community what it is today, and it continues to be a recreation spot and a go-to place to enjoy your summer,” said Wendy DiBernardi of Lake Milton, daughter of Sally Wagner and a member of the centennial committee.
“It was a great place to live then (when the lake was new), and it’s a great place to live now,” said Matthew Wagner of Lake Milton, builder of the replica boat and son of Sally Wagner.
The new lake flooded the village of Fredericksburg along Ellsworth Road, which had been the township’s largest settlement and a stop for Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland travelers that featured stores, mills and taverns.
Some village buildings were demolished and others were moved to higher ground before the lake was created, according to the local historical society.
Many summer cottages were built on the lake’s shoreline between 1920 and 1940.
During the 1940s, employment at the Ravenna Arsenal and World War II gasoline rationing spurred more permanent residences at the lake, according to the township’s web site.
The dam was guarded during World War II to prevent any disruption of Mahoning Valley steel production.
Besides the Elizabeth, tour boats named the Marguerite, the Betty Jean, the Nancy Jane, the Verna D. and the America plied the waters of the lake.
Between 1950 and 1960, the township’s population grew 52.3 percent to 3,341 and the population of the village of Craig Beach on the west side of the lake soared 100.2 percent to 1,139.
The lake was drained beginning in 1985, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources completing the rebuilding of the 2,840-foot-long dam, refilling the lake in 1988 and establishing Lake Milton State Park.
The park consists of the lake, which is a popular boating, fishing, swimming and water-skiing destination, and 1,171 acres near the lake.
The rejuvenation of the lake after the rebuilding of the dam led to construction of luxurious lakefront homes and soaring lakefront real- estate values.
New public-water supply line and sanitary-sewer installations on the east side of the lake in 2007 further enhanced the shoreline communities at the reborn lake.
Establishment during the early 2000s of several wineries near the lake also attracted additional tourists to the area.
Halliday’s Winery on North East River Road just below the dam features a display of historic Lake Milton photographs on its walls.
Construction of freeway noise barrier walls along Interstate 76 in 2015 further enhanced the quality of life at Lake Milton.
This year, the state park added an archery range and mountain bike path.