Cypress Lake And University of Louisiana Share 114-Year History, Lafayette, Louisiana

Blogger’s Note: Two stories converge to explain this off-shoot of the Atchafalaya Basin, in the heart of a 1900s southern college campus.  Cypress Grove is uniquely tied to the history of  University of Louisiana and to the area.

From The Vermilion, April 2002 article History of Cypress Lake Branches In Two Different Directions:

Cypress Grove Swamps

“LOUISIANA La. – Cypress Lake has reinvented itself many times over the University of Louisiana’s 104-year history but has kept its identity, remaining the nucleus of student activities ranging from graduations prior to World War II to today’s canoe races.

The two-acre swamp is a vibrant ecosystem teeming with turtles, fish, birds and 5-foot long alligators. The wildlife mingles with the lake’s Spanish moss-draped cypress trees, purple and yellow irises and other indigenous plants.

Although the cypress trees are hundreds of years old, the swamp itself was created during the 1940s. Before the university was founded, the area was home to a different type of wildlife.

‘Geographically, it was originally a buffalo wallow, going back to ancient times,’ said Bruce Turner, a history professor and head of the special collections at Dupr Library.

 Photo of Cypress Swamp in Louisiana

Once the university opened its doors in 1900, the area, called Cypress Grove, served as a pigpen for the university farm in the 1910s and as an outdoor theater for Shakespearean productions, marching band practice and graduation during the ’20s and ’30s.

Two different opinions of how the grove became a lake are prevalent, but both could be correct. Some said the university created the lake as a precautionary measure taken during World War II; others said it was just to save the trees, which badly needed water.

Photo of Cypress Swamps

Two women who devoted their lives to the university, Maria Mario Mamalakis and Vesta Bourgeois, participated in the oral history project and recorded in the mid-’80s their memories of Cypress Lake.

‘People didn’t realize that we were so near the gulf and had a lot of German submarines in the gulf area,’ said Mamalakis, explaining why the university decided to create the lake. ‘It was a worry that we could even be bombed. It was Cypress Grove for many years, but they were afraid that we might need extra water in case of fire if a bomb had been dropped on campus.’ Bourgeois concurred, adding that female students filled the swamp and conducted fire drills.

The other theory of why the swamp was created was that the trees were dying and needed water. Turner said this is likely because the university president had a background in agriculture.”

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