The official name of our lake is Smith & Sayles Reservoir. It is a man made body of water that was created in the 1800’s to provide a constant supply of water for the mills in the village of Chepachet. Two prominent mill owners – Mr. Smith and Mr. Sayles – purchased the land under the lake from local farmers. They carted in many truckloads of sand to make a dam across the Chepachet River. That dam is why we have a Sand Dam Road in town and why our lake is popularly known as Sand Dam Reservoir.
For those into the history of Rhode Island, Mr. Smith is the person for whom Smith Street and the Smith Hill section of Providence were named. Mr. Sayles gave his name to Saylesville, Rhode Island. Today, those massive mills along the Chepachet River are just a memory, although a dedicated explorer can still find their foundations along the banks of the river south of the village.
At one time, Chepachet was a more important industrial area than Providence, thanks in part to the reliable water supply provided by our lake. Some of the mills in town were worsted mills but another was used to press oil from flaxseed. That mill was on what is still called Oil Mill Lane in the village.
During the era of water powered mills, flax oil was used to lubricate the machinery in the mills. It was applied liberally to the wheels and gears in the mills and plenty of it soaked into the wooden floors of the buildings. If there was a fire, those oil soaked boards ignited easily, often leading to a total loss of the old wooden mills like those found in Chepachet.
The lake has been a haven for fisherman since it was created. Over the year, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has stocked the lake with bass. They like to nest among the hundreds of stumps left behind when the dam was completed and the lake was created.