Brittain Lake

Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania

 

Brittain Lake is a man-made lake, approximately 20 acres is isze, located on the southeast end of the campus.  It is privately owned and maintained by Westminster College and its board of Trustees and is used by many members of the College community as well as local residents.  Students use the lake for biology and gym classes, canoeing, as a place where they can relax or sunbathe, or for a number of other reasons.

 

History

The area in which the lake and lower portion of campus is located was once a pasture and swamp.  It was not always owned by the campus.  Oroginally, the College purchased a portion of the pasture and swamp from James Ruby.  This area that was acquired is now home to the Field House, Amphitheater, athletic fields, and the northern part of Brittain Lake.  Part of the area became wetlands during the 1880s when the Pennsylvania Railroad cut a direct route to Sharpsville through this area.  The tracks that were laid helped to create an alternate path for water that otherwise would have drained into the Little Neshannock Creek.  The new drainage patterns brought water to the area where the Field House and amphitheater now stand, creating a small body of water that was fed by precipitation, runoff, and a small spring. 

 

The existing lake was constructed in two parts.  The northernmost section was built in 1951 with funds supplied by Frank Brittain, a former Trustee of the College.  Construction on the boundaries of the lake soon began and the lake began taking shape.  Contrary to the popular belief of many of the students on campus, the lake was not constructed in the shape of the state of Alabama.  The initial shape of the lake was to be that of an L."  To make the banks of the lake, the swamp area was dredged with bulldozers and the sludge and soil was piled around the proposed boundaries. The lake was first filled from a runoff, precipitation, and a spring well on the lake's western border.  When additional water was needed to fill the basin, it was supplied by running a pipe from McClure's Run to the northern shoreline of the lake. 

 

In 1954, James Seale sold the College the remainder of the swampland to the south of the lake.  Once this portion of land was bought, the lake was extended to its present dimensions.  This expansion was completed in 1957.  Two drains were placed in the eastern bank, making the lake an open system having sources of input and output drainage.

 

Physical characteristics

Brittain Lake is shallow, with a maximum depth of only 11 feet.  The northern half of the lake has an average depth of three feet, increasing to about six feet in the middle of the lake.  Depths in the southern half of the lake range from six to 11 feet, with an average depth of eight feet. 

 

Animals of Brittain Lake

 

Fish:     Fishermen in the community at one time stocked Brittain Lake by bringing fish from other areas.  In the early 1960s small stocks of smallmouth bass, bluegills, and perch were introduced to the lake.  Bass and bluegills are abundant, in addition to bullheads and pumpkinseeds.  The lake is also home to some very large koi and grass carp which were introduced in an attempt to control nuisance algae and vegetation.  

 

Birds:    Like all wetlands in western Pennsylvania, Brittain Lake attracts waterfowl and other birds that use the lake and surrounding wetlands for food and habitat.  Canada Geese are common throughout the year, especially in the summer when they bring their goslings to the lake to grow up.  It's not unusual for Buffleheads, Loons, mergansers, and several species of ducks to stop at the lake during migration, although only Mallards spend an appreciable amount of time there.  Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the cat-tails on the edge of the lake and various species of swallows congregate at dusk to catch insects on the surface of the water.  Several large birds of prey regularly hunt on the lake, including Great Blue Herons and Osprey.

 

Mammals:     Without a doubt, the most common mammal around Brittain Lake is the muskrat.  These destructive animals have undermined the banks on the east, north, and west with their burrows.  It's not uncommon to see them swimming, particularly at dusk.  Although there are beavers in the nearby Little Neshannock Creek, they do not venture into the lake.

 

Reptiles and amphibians:     Several species of frogs live and breed in or near Brittain Lake, including bullfrogs and leopard frogs.  However, like many species of amphibians worldwide, these animals seem to be declining.  Residents of nearby houses once reported that the night-time calls of the frogs were almost deafening;  Today, the frogs are heard only occasionally.  On the other hand, reptile populations in the lake seem to be thriving.  Three species of turtles make their home there:  snapping turtles, red-eared turtles, and soft-shelled turtles (rarely seen).  And several species of snakes -- especially brown water snakes -- can be found in the vegetation around the lake or hunting along the banks.