For many years the Colonial Lake was known as the Rutledge Street Pond; some residents still call it “The Pond.” It acquired the name Colonial Lake in 1881, in honor of the “Colonial Commons” established in 1768.
The lake and its park were part of the Commons established by an Act of the Commons House of Assembly in 1768, setting aside the area forever for public use. The actual lake was created in 1869 when Lynch St. (now Ashley Ave.) was extended south to Broad St., enclosing the area now occupied by the lake. The tradition that the lake was developed as a small boat harbor for planters apparently has no foundation in fact. Most likely, it served as mill pond for a succession of sawmills which operated in the vicinity.
The park around the lake was developed in the 1880s. The current configuration of a lake within concrete embankments with a wide promenade on all four sides was largely completed by 1885. “Gala Week” used to be held in the fall of the year, with a fireworks display on the west side of the Pond,which was then an undeveloped area. Spectators filled to park and crowded onto boats in the lake.Boats were a popular feature of Colonial Lake, and the city even began requiring licenses for them to maintain order on the pond in 1910.Starting that same year, a series of boat and “tub” races were staged in the lake for local boys with money awarded to the winners.For a time, the lake was closed off from the Ashley River with a wire screen and stocked with fish for recreational fishing.
Improvements to the park have been consistent. In 1902, the promenade was improved with a stone pavement. In 1910, palmetto trees were planted along Ashley Ave. and more extensive landscaping was carried out. In 1911, the commissioners who oversaw Colonial Lake announced that new benches would be installed and forty water oaks would be planted.
A private group known as the Parks Conservancy announced plans to improve Colonial Lake in 2008. Its plans would have narrowed adjacent Rutledge Ave. by nine feet (to the same width as nearby streets) and installed a more formal landscape around the lake.