The History of Lake Nokomis


In the poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the grandmother of Hiawatha is named Nokomis. Inspired by this poem, the City of Minneapolis renamed Lake Amelia “Lake Nokomis” in 1910.
lake nokomis

Originally only about 5 feet deep, the lake was dredged in 1914 to increase its depth to approximately 15 feet. When the dredging was complete in 1917, the lake’s surface area had been reduced from 300 acres to 200 acres, the surrounding marshlands and wetlands had been filled with dredged materials, and the swimming beach on the northwestern shore had been created.
lake nokomis

In 1940, the inventor of the first Amphibious Respiratory Unit (later known as SCUBA) was tested in Lake Nokomis. The underwater rebreather allowed divers to move under the water’s surface without producing bubbles. This device led Dr. Christian Lambertsen to be known as The Father of American Combat Swimming. Dr. Lambertsen’s contributions to covert underwater swimming operations would continue for nearly forty years.
sunset on lake nokomis

In 1973, concerns over water quality began to arise.  Studies found that the development of the lake and its surrounding marshlands and wetlands had degraded its natural filtration system. Restoration efforts began in 1996 and continue today. An 8 acre marsh on the southwest bay of the lake has been created, expanded and modified in the years since. Hopefully these efforts will preserve it for the future.

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Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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