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Hidden Cincinnati: What lies beneath Eden Park's Mirror Lake?

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 19:00:38-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnatians may not know what lies directly beneath their feet while they walk their dogs around Mirror Lake in Eden Park.

"The inspiration for Eden Park was actually an effort to secure the city's drinking supply of water," said Michael George, the senior naturalist for the Cincinnati Park Board.

Mirror Lake, a staple of Eden Park, has only been in place since 1965; before then, it was just a giant, open water basin.

Eden park before 1965

In this WCPO Vault video, you can watch the construction of the Eden Park reservoir in 1963.

"When this is empty and cleaned, people would get dressed up in their Sunday finest and the orchestra would be down in the basin and playing away," said George. "And crowds of people would be up this hillside, here — it wasn't as densely wooded at that time — watching the festivities taking place down below in the reservoir basin."

People gathering in Eden Park

The open basin was eventually determined to be a health hazard after a cholera epidemic swept the area in the mid-1800s.

"People are getting ill, they're drinking the water," he said. "So in the creation of the reservoirs up here, there was an understanding or realization that we need to protect these reservoirs by having surrounding green space to prevent all the filth from making its way to the water supply."

In 1866, construction began on a reservoir wall that would separate two basins which, at the time, contained 100 million gallons of water.

Eventually, that wall was also not enough, and a cover was needed so debris wouldn't get into the water. Mirror Lake was born from necessity.

"So in this basin in the 1960s, they need to modernize the system," said George. "And they decided that it's time to enclose the reservoir. So they excavate this. They managed to build a reservoir right here in this base and that's going to hold 80 million gallons of water right below our feet...and in 1965 they installed Mirror Lake here and Meachem Fountain."

The eastern basin at Eden park

The old eastern basin, which still lies near the green area surrounding Mirror Lake, will soon be known as Tom Jones Commons and will have a natural playground with a wetland and walking paths.