When provincial Secretary, Thomas Kelly selected the site for the park, he did so because of the stream running through the valley. He could see the potential of damming the stream to make a lake and have the area as a recreational reserve. He laid this out in a letter sent to Fred Carrington the then Superintendent of New Plymouth on June 8, 1875. This Letter was published in the Taranaki Herald, June 26, 1875.

To form the lake a 110 ft long dam was made across the stream, between todays Band Rotunda and Waterfall for which the plans and specification were supplied by Thomas Kelly.  Originally the stream followed the west bank of the lake and went through the middle of the Hatchery Lawn. At the point where the dam was constructed the bed of the stream was approximately 5m below the level of today’s path.

Because of interest in the construction of the dam the Taranaki Herald published an article, June 13, 1878, describing how it was constructed, and highlighting many problems encountered by the contractor. It was a large undertaking; everything was dug out by hand. During construction there were changes made for safety reasons, for example an under sluice was added to the design. There was a fear that if the dam collapsed the water released would inundate the town causing a lot of damage.

Recreation Ground Main Lake. circa 1895

On the left, Bathing Shed and Diving Board. Bottom right the Band Rotunda and the mountain in the distance not where it should be. An early example of photoshopping. (Puke Ariki PHO2002-879)

When work was finished two boats were donated, one from Mr. Hirst which was described as a neat and commodious pleasure boat and one from Mr. Nicoll (blacksmith) which was a 15 ft iron outrigger christened “Lady of the Lake”. The Board decided that they would charge one guinea if the public wanted to put their own boats on the lake for private use.

After completion of the lake the Acclimatisation Society approached the Board with the intention of forming a union so that they could use the grounds for rearing fish and birds. Unfortunately, the society also wanted to ban boating and swimming in the lake which was unacceptable to the Board.

In early 1879 a bathing shed and diving board were built, and the lake became the first public swimming pool in town. Initially bathing was restricted to before 8am then in 1886 the hours were extended to 11am for women and children.  A red flag was hoisted on the Cannon Hill flagpole to warn men to stay clear. Swimming in the lake became less popular after the public baths were opened but it was still used at times up until the 1920s.

Newly formed islands in the Main lake - mid 1890s

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. N.Z. Ref. G- 21383-1 2

Eastern Bank cut back in 1886

Puke Ariki PHO2001-396

In 1886 the area of the lake was increased by over an acre by removing a spit of land on the east side of the lake immediately south of The Poet’s Bridge in a section of the lake known as the Dardanelles.

Three islands were formed in the lake in the mid-1890s. The two islands on the east side were originally part of a spit of land which extended north from Monument Hill between the two streams feeding the lake.

Recreation Ground - Barretts cannon - Puke Ariki A. 4. 101

In 1892 a small part of the lake in front of the Rotunda was reclaimed to make the promenade wider. This was possibly the location of the under-sluice that was added to the original dam design

When the lake was originally formed it extended as far as Goodwin Dell. The first 100 metres at the southern end was narrow, shallow and full of raupo. This area was reclaimed in 1899 and made into what was known as Manhattan Island, clearly shown on a map from 1913. T. K. Skinner supervised the project. The stream at the west of the island was filled in at some point.

The other major work on the lake was the extension beyond the Boatshed known as the Serpentine. This was designed and supervised by Percy Smith in 1908. One of the streams feeding the lake comes through the valley where the Serpentine is. This was dug out to form the lake extension. A gang of Maori labourers were hired to do the job and they camped in the park during the project. Newton King was so impressed with them that he hired them to dig out and create the lake at Brooklands when work on the Serpentine was complete.