How Lake Free­man came to be

Back in 1923, after the Nor­way Dam was com­plet­ed form­ing Lake Shafer, the Indi­ana Hydro-Elec­tric Com­pa­ny decid­ed to build a sec­ond gen­er­at­ing sta­tion. Con­struc­tion began about 12 miles south on the Oak­dale Dam in the Fall of 1924

Thank good­ness for that deci­sion because Lake Free­man was born. 

Here’s some­thing most peo­ple don’t know, It actu­al­ly wasn’t called Lake Free­man in the begin­ning. It was referred to as Lake Del­phi because of the prox­im­i­ty and access to the build­ing-site from the town of Del­phi. How­ev­er, not every­one in the area thought that was a good idea. As Mark Smith, the his­to­ri­an at the Car­roll Coun­ty His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety, put it, There was some dis­agree­ment from the folks in Mon­ti­cel­lo on the name. They named it Lake Tioga.” 

So where did the name Lake Free­man come from? It was actu­al­ly in hon­or of the lead engi­neer on the project, Roger Free­man. Almost a year after the Dam was com­plet­ed the lake was for­mal­ly named Lake Free­man. Seems like a good com­pro­mise. Sure makes a great triv­ia question.

Build­ing a dam is no small task and that was cer­tain­ly the case in 1923. The job called for more than 250 men, four­teen months and two mil­lion dol­lars to com­plete. The men worked sev­en days a week with a night shift to keep on sched­ule. Approx­i­mate­ly 230,000 cubic feet of earth were trucked in from near­by Yeo­man to cre­ate the levy. The Dam itself is over 1200 feet wide and 58 feet tall.

The Dam was offi­cial­ly com­plet­ed in Novem­ber, 1925.

Because of the rig­ors of the job, the men were housed at the job site. Bar­racks were built as well as a com­mis­sary and mess hall. The orig­i­nal mess hall was moved and now serves as a build­ing at the Car­roll Coun­ty Coun­try Club. The area were the men lived and ate is now home to the Oak­dale Dam Inn.

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Pho­tos cour­tesy of the Car­roll Coun­ty His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety.

Roger and Mary Freemanm
A 1923 photo of Chief Engineer Roger Freeman and his wife Mary

The true sto­ry of how Lake Free­man got its name

Many have thought, includ­ing myself, that the name Lake Free­man came to be after the Chief Engi­neer, Roger Free­man inter­vened in a dis­pute between the towns of Del­phi and Mon­ti­cel­lo. Del­phi want­ed to call the reser­voir north of the new­ly built Oak­dale Dam, Lake Del­phi. In fact, there are ear­ly pho­tos labeled with this name. Mon­ti­cel­lo thought Lake Mon­ti­cel­lo would be appro­pri­ate. When the two could not come to an agree­ment, they decid­ed, because of the benev­o­lent nature of Mr. Free­man, to call the reser­voir Lake Freeman.

Here’s the true story.

I recent­ly was con­tact­ed by Deb­o­rah Giraud (pro­nounced Girow). She is the grand­daugh­ter of Roger Free­man. I had the plea­sure of speak­ing with her and her moth­er, Anne Free­man Giraud. The 102-year-old daugh­ter of Roger Free­man! It was an hon­or to say the least. Two very sharp and well-informed ladies.

Roger Free­man designed both the Nor­way Dam (1923) and Oak­dale Dam (1925). It was his insight and rec­om­men­da­tion to the Indi­ana Hydro-Elec­tric Com­pa­ny to har­ness the pow­er of the Tippeca­noe Riv­er and bring elec­tric­i­ty to rur­al cen­tral Indi­ana and beyond. In fact, as ear­ly as 1856, two Nor­we­gian immi­grants, rec­og­niz­ing the pow­er of the riv­er, built a cof­fer dam to pow­er a grist mill.

Mr. Free­man was not an absen­tee leader. He lived with the more than 500 labor­ers who phys­i­cal­ly built the dams. He was away from his fam­i­ly for months. He was just 32 when con­struc­tion began on Nor­way. The con­di­tions were dif­fi­cult, keep in mind the crew lived at the site and worked through harsh winters.

Dur­ing the win­ter of 1925, amid con­struc­tion of the Oak­dale Dam, Roger Free­man was in New York and fell ill from appen­dici­tis and was rushed to surgery. Well, in those days an appen­dec­to­my was not a rou­tine surgery. Mr. Free­man devel­oped com­pli­ca­tions and passed away on Jan­u­ary 21st, 1925. Six months before the com­ple­tion of Oak­dale Dam. The crew was shocked and sad­dened but pushed on.

In a peti­tion by Indi­ana Sen­a­tor Emery Sell­ers to the Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion of Indi­ana dat­ed April 15th, 1925, he for­mal­ly asked that the new­ly formed Lake be named, in the spir­it of ambi­tious effort”, Free­man Lake. Just five days lat­er, the Com­mis­sion unan­i­mous­ly for­mal­ly approved. 

The Oak­dale Dam was com­plet­ed on August 1st, 1925. Had it not been for the vision, inge­nu­ity and dri­ve of Roger Free­man, our beloved twin lakes and the pow­er they pro­duce, may not have every been real­ized. Thank you Mr. Freeman!

Roger Free­man passed at just 36 years of age 

Born July 20th, 1892 • Died Jan­u­ary 21st, 1925

Wife: Mary (Brad­street) Freeman

Chil­dren: (1919) Anne Brad­street Free­man Giraud, Roger Morse Free­man, Jr.

Lake Freeman Facts

Did you know?

The current Indiana state record white bass and hybrid striped bass came from Lake Freeman.