History of the area around the Three Lakes of Waccabuc, Oscaleta, and Rippowam
Quoted from A History of the Town of Lewisboro, © 1981.
First Europeans found some cleared land used by Native Americans for corn cultivation in the area. An estimate of population density at the time was 2.5 people per square mile.
Land close to the lakes was sold to Europeans as early as 1655 and 1673. By 1750 most of the area was cleared for farms, usually about 240 acres in size, and rented annually. By 1770 most farms were purchased. At one time the Waccabuc area was famous for its beavers but most were gone by the early 1800’s. In 1764 there were 183 dwellings in the town. Farming was the major occupation, and in the winters, the farmers made shoes, which was a thriving industry here until the Civil War. (One of the shoemakers who cut the materials and gave them to the farmers to finish lived and worked near Lake Rippowam.) In 1840 a railroad was planned to come through the town, but it was never built, but in 1847 the railroad came from NY City to Katonah and Goldens Bridge. Dairy farms then became popular, but I’m not sure if they were immediately around the lakes. A man who made soap for the families in town from potash apparently lived near the lakes. The north shores of Lake Waccabuc and Lake Rippowam were used as timberland in the early 1800’s.
A hotel was built on Lake Waccabuc in 1857 which advertised that it could take 80 guests. It offered flat bottomed boats for fishing and skiffs for poling through the channels between the lakes. It continued in operation until a fire in 1896. A boathouse at the waters edge of the hotel continued in operation renting boats until about 1930. A painting commissioned sometime during these years shows that much of the land around the lakes was open fields where some second growth woods stand today.
The concrete gate at the outlet from Lake Waccabuc was built about 1870 when New York City’s Croton Water Department added Lake Waccabuc to its water supply system. At that time the department also enlarged the streams between the lakes.
Summer camps began to be developed on rented land by Lake Waccabuc in 1903, and 20 existed by 1927. Along the south shore of Oscaleta, summer camps started in the early 1890’s.
The golf course and country club to the south of Lake Waccabuc was laid out in 1913.
In the 1920’s, more land around Lake Waccabuc began to be sold for summer homes and camps. In 1925, a boathouse was established on the east end of Waccabuc for renting boats and selling candy and soft drinks. It was closed in 1960. In the 1930’s, it is estimated that there were only 2 permanent residences around Lake Waccabuc, the rest being “summer camps”. In 1940, the residential development of Twin Lakes Village (between Lakes Oscaleta and Rippowam) was begun, and over 100 homes were eventually established.
In 1907, a large home was built on the north shore of Lake Rippowam, but it was abandoned, and torn down in 1952. In the early 1960’s, Westchester County bought the land and opened Mountain Lakes Camp in 1965.
Possible insights into the creation of the channels
The book Liquid Assets references a prolonged drought in 1876 that affected the capacity of the NYC drinking water supply, and cites articles in the Brewster Standard and the Putnam County Standard of efforts to use water from area lakes to increase the flow to the existing Croton and Boyd’s Corners Reservoirs. ” ‘Everywhere the old outlets are being sunk lower,’ said the Standard of the work being conducted by 300 men on seven lakes and ponds. The task involved cutting down lake outlets by several feet, blasting new outlets and hand-digging six-foot-deep canals through quicksand and swamps of man-sized water lily roots to make pathways from one dwindling water source to another….’Some owners are taking advantage of the low water to dig the shore deeper and build walls farther out, as land is valuable here, especially on deep water fronts,’ the Putnam County Standard reported. The battle [over control of the waters] continued on many other fronts, including Peach, Haines, and Waccabuc Lakes, and White, Barrett and Mud Ponds.”
From Liquid Assets, a History of New York City’s Water System, By Diane Galusha, Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY, 1999
NYC began efforts to protect the watershed early. In 1893, Daly’s Raids were launched in the Croton watershed. “Armed with a law to ‘provide for the sanitary protection’ of New York’s water, and a directive from the Common Council to provide a 300-foot margin around the reservoirs and along streams that fed them, Daly and his men fanned out across the countryside, ordering homes evacuated, barns and pigsties removed, privies burned.”
From Water for a City, by Charles H. Weidner, Rutgers University Press, 1974
“A description of the [water supply shortage] situation is given in this account written by Edward Wegmann, the Division Engineer directly responsible for much of the planning and construction done at this time:
The year 1880 was the driest recorded in the Croton watershed since water was introduced in New York in 1842… Severe as was the drought of 1880, it was surpassed by that of the following year. Although the total amount of rainfall for 1881 amounted to 46.33 inches, less than five inches fell during July, August, and September….
During the latter part of September and October  extraordinary measures had to be taken to reduce the daily consumption. The outlet-gates of the new reservoir in Central Park were partially closed, the water was shut off from the public fountains and drinking-hydrants, street sprinkling was stopped, etc., and urgent appeals were made to the public by the Mayor and by the Department of Public Works to use water as sparingly as possible. Early in October 1881 the rights to draw water for the remainder of the year from Lakes Waccabuc and Tonetta, and from White, China, Peach and Cross ponds were purchased. By the energetic measures stated above, the danger of a water-famine was once more averted….”
Quoted from Edward Wegmann, The Water Supply of the City of New York 1658-1895 in Water for a City.