This content was initially published at batonrougelakes.org/baton-rouge-lakes-brief-history and reproduced here with permission of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
by Mukul Verma, Communications Director, BRAF
In 1933, four separate donors gave LSU a tupelo cypress swamp next to the campus. The campus itself had been relocated from State Capitol Grounds seven years earlier. The donors had a stipulation: LSU was to turn the swamps into lakes and parks for public use, and keep them so forever.
Hundreds of men employed by the Works Progress Administration, a federal agency created during the Great Depression, dug University Lake from that swamp in the mid-1930s. They also built a sewer system that let LSU claim land for Sorority Row, and formed land for roads that surround the lakes.
The work of those 900 men removed the threat of malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and created a public space that would be cherished by tens of thousands of people who came after them.
Nature has been taking back the lakes since then. Local government slowed the return to swampland by having University Lake dredged in the early-1980s. But the job was inadequate; the lakes are silting up again.
A new generation of philanthropists and residents have pledged to preserve the lakes, and to make them a great space for many more decades. A master plan has been completed and the implementation phase began in November 2019. Construction should begin in late 2020.
The photos below date from the initial construction of the lakes during the 1930's by the Works Progress Administration. They were sourced from the State Library of Louisiana.