Lake Campus & Lake Wiley

Students rowing during Freshman Orientation
Davidson students rowing during Freshman Orientation

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For more than a hundred years, water activities have been an important aspect of Davidson College. This important aspect of college life has focused around two lakes: Lake Norman and the lesser known Lake Wiley.

The former has presently been affiliated with Davidson College for exactly forty years and has been used as a social outlet for the student body as well as the greater community. Lake Norman has also provided the student body with numerous opportunities to get involved in the Davidson community through club and intramural sports. Before Lake Norman, however, it was Lake Wiley that gave Davidson students a unique aquatic experience. Built enthusiastically, for the most part, by the students themselves, this venue was a year-round haven for bonding, relaxation, and fun.

Fun & games during Freshman Orientation
Fun & games during Freshman Orientation

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Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. The lake “was created in the early 1960’s when the Duke Power Company dammed the Catawba River to generate hydroelectric power.” It is actually named after Norman A. Cocke, former president of Duke Power. It boasts more than 520 miles of coastline, which is more than what North and South Carolina have combined (Lake Norman Facts).

Twenty years ago it was primarily a weekend retreat, but with the completion of I-77, everything has changed. It is now one of the fastest-growing areas in North Carolina, attracting families, retirees, and couples looking for a romantic weekend (Lake Norman

Lake Norman has been affiliated with Davidson College ever since its creation. In 1963, l09.6 acres of land was given to the college as a gift from Duke Power (Davidson College News Bureau: Lake Campus 1963; Robert Currie: letter to Mr. Sammy W. Cross 1965). From the very start, the Lake Campus was a focal point of great excitement and anticipation. “’It’s difficult to tell what such a wonderful gift to the college will mean – except to say that the possibilities are tremendous,’ said Dr. J. MacDowell Richards, Chairman of the college Board of Trustees, on accepting the gift” (Davidson College News Bureau: Lake Campus 1963)). His remark was not unfounded.

Boating on Lake Wiley
Boating on Lake Wiley

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Starting out as strictly a swimming area, it quickly grew to encompass canoeing, sailing, water skiing, and other types of boating endeavors (Lake Campus Regulations and Information). A storage facility, a bath house, a shelter, and even a clubhouse were planned for construction to support athletics (R.A. Currie: Memorandum to Dr. Martin). However, the administration also planned to emphasize the intellectual. President Martin envisioned the Lake Campus to be an extension of the educational program and the liberal arts (Sailstad: Lake Norman Recreational Area).

The Lake Campus was quickly a huge success, and as a result, administrators realized that there were things that needed to be attended to. The Lake Campus had a lack of resources, in addition to being understaffed. Picnic grills and tables, in addition to shelters, outdoor lighting, and greater safety measures, such as signs directing boating, parking traffic, and swimmers, were needed (Tom Scott: Memorandum to Bob Currie; Sailstad: Lake Campus).

In its forty years, the Lake Campus has proven to be a huge success. It is a popular hangout spot for the entire Davidson community, complete with classes in such sports as sailing, canoeing, and water skiing. Three club level sports – crew, sailing, and water skiing – also practice there. It also provides for numerous other recreational activities that benefit the school as a whole, such as Odyssey camp-outs, freshman orientation social, and departmental cookouts. Lake Campus manager Sterling Martin has been a major factor in extending the influence of the facility. He and Lee Jones, director of club and intramural sports, have created a summer day camp for children, focusing on things such as swimming and boating, as well as archery and other land-based programs (Giduz, pars. 3, 4, 5, 8).

In looking for ideas to set up the Lake Campus, administrators turned to Lake Wiley, the previous Davidson College lake campus that was immensely popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “An artificial lake, covering fourteen acres,” it was provided in 1892-93 as a gift by S.H. Wiley, “a Trustee of the College” (Shaw 226).

The lake was a project proposed by Professor Henry Louis Smith. It was he who proposed the idea and convinced trustees to buy “some thirty acres of land on either side of a creek east of campus.” Students contributed by building most of it themselves, in addition to pledging money.

It was finished “by the spring of 1893, a lake about 600 by 300 yards, with two bath houses, seven boats, and a sled designed to race down a steep track and fling itself and its passengers into the water” (Beaty 191).” The Lake Wiley project “surpassed [Davidson’s] most sanguine expectations.” Students basically gave up land sports in favor of the lake; the boys using it to “[take] the girls down for a row” (The Davidson Monthly: 1892-93).


2001 Crew Team
Men’s Crew Team [2001]

The community also used the lake in the winter “for skating and tobogganing” (The Davidson Monthly: 1896-97). Unfortunately, Lake Wiley was eventually removed due to repeated sewage leaks into the lake (Blodgett).

Intramural and club sports have always been a major part of the Lake Campus. Many bold programs have been undertaken over the years, but some have not survived.

A new project was taken up by the administration in 1977 in response to a generous donation (Duane A. Dittman: Letter to Mr. James W. Howard). An original gift of $5,000 and 350 acres of farmland in Huntersville was given to Davidson by Atlanta businessman Jim Howard, owner of Huntersville Hardwood (Berkin, par. 5). It was here that the college started its equestrian program. It was started for the purpose of using it in the physical education program (Berkin, par. 9). In 1980, the Riding Program was forced to move to the Lake Campus in hopes of attracting money to the location (Equestrian Program and Lake Campus). Although the program was very popular, the costs proved to be too much.

The current club sports that the Lake Campus houses are sailing, crew, and water skiing. Formed in October 1964, the sailing club began with six boats and friendly
competition. The team now competes in the Southeastern Intercollegiate Sailing Association and has access to a fleet of nine sailboats housed at the Lake Campus. Crew has been established for many years and is very competitive around the South. There are male and female teams, each sporting both a varsity and a novice team. The team has fall and spring seasons in which they travel to major regattas such as the Head of the South and the Head of the Chattahoochee. Water skiing always been an option for physical education and instruction, but has only recently been taken up as a club team.

Boating on the Lake Campus
Boating on the Lake Campus

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Aquatics have been an integral part of Davidson College’s history. From the beginning, the college  community has seen the lake as a great opportunity for physical, intellectual, and social growth. Although Davidson has changed greatly since the years of Lake Wiley and the beginnings of the Lake Campus, one thing has remained the same: an enthusiasm and commitment to water activities in the hopes that it will touch the lives of the Davidson community.

For more information see Around the D blog: Lake Norman History Update and Davidson College Lake Campus History.



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Intramurals, Morrison Hall, Cake Race, and Lake Campus & Lake Wiley – Works Cited

Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College. Davidson: Briarpatch Press, 1988.

Berkin, George. “Tally Ho!: Davidson Students Will Be Able To Ride.” Newsclipping. Athletics-Horsebacking Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Blodgett, Jan. Personal Interview. 14 October 2003.

Conn, Robert. “Virginia Runner Takes The Cake.” Newsclipping. Cake Race Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Currie, Robert A. Letter to Mr. Sammy W. Cross. 14 December 1965.

RG 2/1.14. Presidents Office D. Grier Martin. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Davidson College. Davidson Monthly 1896-97. Vol. 13: 209.Davidson College. Davidson Monthly 1892-93. Vol. 8: 403-4

Davidson College. Lake Norman NC Page. 19 October 2003.

Davidson College News Bureau. Davidson: Lake Campus, 1963.

Dittman, Duane A. Letter to Mr. James W. Howard. 29 December 1977. Huntersville Hardwoods, Inc. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Giduz, Bill. “Making a Splash: Lake Campus Celebrates Forty Years of Fun in the Sun.” Davidson Journal Fall 2003: 19.

Graham, John B. “The Love Nest” Newsclipping, c. 1945. Morrison Hall- YMCA Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Lake Campus Regulations and Information. Lake Campus Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC

“Lake Norman Facts.” Lake Norman Monster Page. 19 October 2003.

Lingle, Walter L. Memories of Davidson College. Richmond, Virginia. Knox Press, 1947.

Mayer, Barbara. “Let Them Eat Cake.” Davidson Journal.1987.

Davidson College “Morrow Comes In First In Freshmen Cake Race.” Davidsonian. 13 Nov. 1930.

“Old Gym is Demolished:Morrison Hall serves Davidson College for Half Century.” c.1945. Morrison Hall- YMCA Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

On your mark…get set…go for CAKE!” Newsclipping. Cake Race Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“One Hundred and Ninth Session Opens: Old Morrison Hall Demolished.” The Davidson College Bulletin, c. 1945. Morrison Hall- YMCA Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives. Davidson, NC

Photograph of Boating at the Lake Campus. Photograph Collection, number 9-0637. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Boating on Lake Wiley. Photograph Collection, number 29-0265. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Colleen Faes ’04 Women’s First Place. “First Year Students Conclude Orientation with Annual Cake Race.” Davidson News and Events.

Photograph of Davidson Students Rowing during Freshmen Orientation. Photograph Collection, number 27-0269. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Fun & Games During Freshmen Orientation. Photograph Collection, number 27-0278. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

<>.20 October 2003.

Photograph of Missy Willis winner of ’86 Cake Race. Photograph Collection, number 27- 0523. Davidson College Archives, Cake Race, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Mrs. Daisy Whittle and a winner from the ’63 race. Photograph of Sterling T. Martin Jr. ’63. “Let Them Eat Cake.” Davidson Journal.1987:20-24.

Photograph of runners from class of ’74. Photograph Collection, number 27-1467.

Sailstad, Robert J. Letter to Mr. Currie. 17 August 1962. Lake Norman Recreational Area. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Scott, Tom. Memorandum to Bob Currie. 7 July 1964. Lake Campus. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Sailstad, R.J. Letter to President Martin. 17 July 1963. Lake Campus. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Shaw, Cornelia Rebekah. Davidson College. New York: Fleming H. Revell Press, 1923.

Skinner, Carrington. “Sweet Success for Winners of the 73rd Annual Cake Race.” Davidsonian. 2003. Davidson College Archives, Cake Race, Davidson, NC.

“The Gymnasium.” Davidson College Magazine December 1898: 160-161 YMCA of the USA. Oct 19, 2003 <>

Author: Zachary Kazior
Date: October 2003

Cite as: Kazior, Zachary. “Lake Campus and Lake Wiley” Davidson Encyclopedia October 2003 <>

Related Entries: Intramurals, Henry Louis Smith

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