Lake Timeline


Lake Excavation. The Civil Works Administration, a federal work project during the Great Depression, began excavating the lake with a work crew of 555 men, who were under the direction of Commissioner Charles A. Townsend and Custodian Ray Moses. The lake was considered as early as 1902.


Excavation created an island, in addition to the natural one that was already there. Local engineer G. Walter Parker designed the island. Once completed, the island was only accessible by boat for 25 years. Photocopy of Beacon article dated January 21, 1934 indicates that 4 bones were first discovered by CWA workman, Joseph Gari, and included a hip and shoulder bone.


Prehistoric Mastodon Bones and Tusks that were estimated to be between 10,000 and 22,000 years old were discovered March 7, 1934. A hand-drawn map showing specifically where the bones were found, indicates a skull and scapula were found at the north end of the lake; toward the north on the east end 3 ribs and the 1st and 2nd tusks; on the east end between the two islands the 2nd skull, vertebrae, toes and femur; and at the far south end the 3rd tusk, 3rd skull and lower jaw.


Mastodon Bones first housed in Greenhouse.


Beacon article dated January 15, 1935 reports that Aurora College Professor Clarence R. Smith informed the Lions Club members that since last April, 2 more skulls, 2 more tusks, a leg bone, a lower jaw, front leg bone, several ribs, vertebrae and foot bones are among the latest finds. In addition, the thigh bone of a large beaver, estimated to weigh over 500 pounds was found along with 6 wing bones from a large bird which would have stood over four feet in height, 21 different species of shell from the swamp marl, and bones from elk and Virginia deer. Borings in the marl at one point found the swamp to go 304 feet into the ground. Tests showed that two large valleys existed at the site years ago.


Article by Clarence R. Smith was published in Science, dated April 15, 1935. It states that the find included 3 skulls, one of which includes the lower jaw, 3 tusks, a femur, an ulna, a scapula, a number of ribs, several vertebrae and a number of foot bones. ES. Riggs, paleontologist at Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, identified the species as Mastodon americanus. 3 pairs of bird humeri and a portion of breast, all of the same species of bird were found, though the species has not yet identified, are being examined by Professor L.A. Adams, of the University of Illinois.

The deposit in which they were found is a bed of gray marl, which borings revealed a maximum thickness of thirty feet that was overlaid by two to five feet of peat, and over this there was two feet of black muck which comprised the bottom of the modern swamp. In addition, the right femur of a giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, was found and being examined by Professor Adams.

A September 1935 article in the Wilson Bulletin states that Dr. L.A. Adams, professor at the University of Illinois determined the bird to be a Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) of late Pleistocene. Previously this swan had been reported from Pleistocene deposits in Oregon and Florida, this present being the first occurrence of it in the central portion of our country. The specimens were returned to Professor Smith and placed in a museum at Phillips Park.


A Cinder Bridle Path was constructed around the circumference of the lake, prior to summer of that year. The lease was to provide supplies and materials for the construction of the stable. The stables were then built. The original Resolution and Public Notice are on file.


Towards completion the project, the number of workmen dropped drastically, when the supervision of the project was transferred to the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission.


Beacon photo showing the bones. Beacon article dated September 1, 1937 indicated that Professor Clarence Smith of Aurora College, during a presentation to the Rotary Club, urged the city to provide proper housing for the bones discovered at Phillips Park and in surrounding area, or turn them over to the Field Museum in Chicago.


The official name for the lake was "Townsend Lake" after former Mayor and Park Commissioner, though everyone referred to it as "Mastodon Lake."


Mastodon Bones were displayed in Birdhouse.


Mastodon Bones were moved to Aurora Historical Society's Tanner House.


Beacon photo dated July 16, 1939 showed Park Superintendent Ray Moses and Aurora College Professor Clarence R. Smith removing an 8-foot long mastodon tusk, found by WPA worker Louis Sipos, during a sewer project on Watson Street, south of Parker Avenue, which was taken to the greenhouse, with plans to have it presented to the Aurora Historical Society. The article includes a detailed description of the find and of the makeup of the soil content from that time to current.


The road was constructed around the island.


The bridge was built.


The island was used for weddings.


The west extension of the lake was dug.


Washrooms were built on island with the stones taken from the demolition of Center School.


Paleontologist's report on Mastodon Lake stated there were no additional findings.


A 1-mile walking/biking trail was constructed around the lake.


The pedestrian bridge to the island was constructed.


The Mastodon Bones were moved to an exhibit at the Aurora Historical Museum in the Art and History Center at 20 East Downer Place.


Construction began in the fall on the Mastodon Island Project that entailed two separate sites, each adjacent to the lake. Completed in May of 2000, the island site showcases a life-size mastodon sculpture, mastodon footprints, a tusk maze and a mastodon slide. The new gazebo, complete with tiered seating, will be utilized for educational programs in conjunction with the interactive displays. The other site located southwest of the lake, known as Mastodon Lake Recreation Area West, features a playground, a pavilion, sand volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. In addition, three new fishing piers were located around the lake.