Prior to acquisition of the original charter for the College of William and Mary in 1693, Lake Matoaka was an open watercourse of streams and wetlands known as Archer's Hope Swamp. Some time between 1700 and 1750 this original section of college property was sold to a private landowner who soon dammed the main creek (now known as College Creek) to create a mill pond. The mill was located just south of the current dam on Jamestown Road. Presumably, grain shipped to College Landing could be transported upstream to the mill, with milled flour transported downstream.
Over the next two centuries, the mill went through multiple private ownership before being destroyed. It wasn't until the 1920s that the College re-acquired the mill pond and surrounding College Woods. At that time, the pond was re-named Matoaka--after Chief Powhatan's daughter whose nickname was Pocahontas.
By the late 1980s, poor water quality associated with multiple sewage spills into the College Creek drainage system and Lake Matoaka led to the closing of the lake to swimming and fishing. The lake is listed as a hypereutrophic system, meaning that it is loaded with an excess of nutrients that stimulates nuisance algal blooms every year. Although threats to humans due to bacterial contaminants are very low, because of liability concerns the lake remains closed to the public.
Despite the relatively poor water quality in Lake Matoaka, the diversity of fishes and turtles in the lake is fairly high. Further, the streams on the west side of the lake are exceptionally clean and are home to an interesting fauna, including a previously undescribed species of amphipod and a population of least brook lampreys--non-parasitic, jawless fishes. Ongoing studies of the lake and the tributary streams by both faculty and students will characterize the aquatic organisms and their living environments.