Benton Co. History: Little Rock Lake Has Long History in County
RICE -- Little Rock Lake has a long history in Benton County.
It's fed by three creeks and is located in both Watab and Langola Township. The current surface area is 1,450 acres, the shoreline length is 15.7 miles, and the maximum depth is around 23 feet with the average depth being eight feet.
There are has been a lot of rumors over the years about the lake growing in size after the dam was built in 1907, however, Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Ostby says that is just not accurate.
I've heard lots of stories over the years from 'it started as swampland' to 'it got bigger after the Watab Pulp and Paper Mill was built', but on the old maps from the 1850s and 1860s the lake is there, and honestly on the maps it looks like it's pretty much the same size as it always was.
Ostby says in 1939 the lake made news because a Native American encampment was discovered on the south and west side of the lake with some sample burial mounds in that area.
The Benton Beach Park on the north end of Little Rock Lake has been a staple in the county for 96 years.
Ostby says in the early years the Watab Pulp and Paper Company bought up a lot of the land on the north and west side of the lake once they finished their dam in 1907. Then, in 1926 the Minnesota State Legislature passed a law allowing counties to own land for parks. That's when the paper company donated 7.9 acres to create the Benton Beach Park. Federal money from the WPA projects helped to create some of the early amenities.
Sand was brought in for an actual beach, boat piers, putting up one of the first buildings. Over time it just grew and grew.
Ostby says the park was an instant success and hosted many events like company picnics, 4th of July celebrations, church gatherings, the Sportsman Club Fish Fry, and more. In 1935 there was a Labor Day homecoming event that the Legion was expecting 5,000 people for boat races, sports games, music by a band from Foley, and a dance at the Little Rock Pavilion.
Over the years the county had acquired more land and the park is now more than 30 acres.
The Watab Pulp and Paper Company sold off more of its land along the west shore in the 1950s which allowed for more private cabins to be built.
Once a month Ostby is on the News @ Noon Show on WJON talking about the forgotten history of Benton County.