Despite being the swampy heart of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Cypress Lake’s origins have always remained somewhat of a mystery.
From rumors of the area being a home to buffalo before the land was settled, to a water reservoir in case Lafayette was bombed in World War II, the true origin of Louisiana’s most carefully managed ecosystem has been about as murky as the lake itself.
Before former UL Lafayette president Joel L. Fletcher flooded the area to create the lake in 1943, it was a commons area for students to hang out and socialize, much like the student union it sits near.
Paul Nevels, Fletcher’s grandson, wrote to Bruce Turner, Ph.D., assistant dean of special collections in Edith G. Dupre Library, last December to tell him the truth about the creation of the swamp as told by his venerated grandfather after he heard that people at the university were perpetuating a myth of the lake being created as a water reservoir for fighting fires in case of bombings during World War II.
Fletcher oversaw the flooding of the grove to create the lake. Nevels explained in the letter that his uncle, Joel Fletcher III, said Fletcher flooded the grove for the principal reason of preserving the cypress trees that inhabited the area.
Nevels wrote that both his mother and his aunt had never heard of the wartime reservoir theory.
Now, the lake thrives, with fish, turtles, alligators and birds all living together just a short walk from the university’s academic buildings.
So close, in fact, an alligator turtle found its way into a classroom a few weeks ago. Brad Moon, Ph.D., a biology professor at UL Lafayette, found a 50-pound alligator snapping turtle crawling along the outside of the lake. Coincidentally, he was teaching his students about turtles.
“When I came to visit the university to see if I was going to come here for my doctoral research, Cypress Lake was one of the biggest selling points, the natural beauty, the diversity of animals,” said biology doctoral student Michael Fulbright, one of Moon’s students, in a story by the university on the turtle’s escape.
Here’s a video that explores the history of Cypress Lake:
Here’s a selection of vintage photographs of Cypress Lake through the years:
This was a joint venture between Seth Dickerson and Jessica Manafi.