The Northern Almanac Ep. 6 - 'The Lagoon'

Mar 9, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary. 

One of most prominent features on the Northern Illinois campus is the East Lagoon. But did you know that it is not even a natural landmark? 

NIU's Lagoon
Credit WNIJ

Located off Lincoln Highway, just west of the Kishwaukee River, the East Lagoon began life as a slight depression in the ground that filled with water whenever it rained. When the water receded, it left behind a great big hole of mud. In 1905, Northern groundskeeper W.C. Claybaugh proposed creating a lake there. Two years later, he and campus gardener Frank Balthis excavated the “mud hole” and created a seven-acre pond. They gave the lagoon some visual interest by creating a small island and planting hundreds of plants and trees around the shoreline.

During the Great Depression, workers with the government Civil Works Administration, CWA, created a new Castle Drive and built the bridge just north of the lagoon. Workers from the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, dredged and enlarged the lagoon itself. The work took two years. The Lagoon became the center of many campus and community activities, from fishing and ice-skating to plays, homecoming events, and commencement exercises. Today, the Lagoon still offers a peaceful study location and remains a popular destination for students and DeKalb residents alike.