July 15: Constructing Connecticut’s Largest Lake


With an area of 8.4 square miles and over 60 miles of coastline, Candlewood Lake is the largest lake in the state of Connecticut. Located in five towns and straddling both Litchfield and Fairfield counties, its shores are also home to some of the state’s highest-priced real estate. The lake has served as a recreational haven for both wealthy city-dwellers and the families of western Connecticut for decades.

A panoramic view of the northern half of Candlewood Lake. (Wikimedia commons)

A century ago, however, there was no sprawling Candlewood Lake for Connecticans to enjoy. It was created in the 1920s — not as a tourist attraction or a real estate stimulus — but as part of an ambitious project proposed by Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P), then the state’s largest electric utility. CL&P’s goal was to provide a constant source of hydroelectric power for the region using an innovative, reversible turbine to precisely control the water level of the lake.

On July 15, 1926, CL&P’s board of directors approved the master plan to create the lake, and the utility company’s agents immediately sprang into action. They organized buyouts of over 5,000 acres of land from 35 families and property owners in the area. Even though the utility was given the ability to utilize eminent domain to acquire land for the project, they did not use it against a few landowners who simply refused to sell their about-to-be-inundated properties. This oroduced a curious scenario where, even today, certain patches of the lake floor still remain under private ownership.

Over the next two years, 5,400 acres of forest were hand cleared, and over 100 buildings and homesteads that made up the tiny village of Jerusalem were either moved or destroyed to prepare the valley for flooding. After months of slowly diverting water from the nearby Housatonic River, the new reservoir — soon christened Candlewood Lake after a nearby mountain — was deemed complete in September 1928. Today, Candlewood Lake remains one of Connecticut’s most popular recreational areas and continues to serve as an important source of hydroelectric power for the state.

Further Reading

Creating Candlewood Lake,” connecticuthistory.org

History of Candlewood Lake,” Candlewood Lake Authority


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