Lake Ronkonkoma (lake)

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Lake Ronkonkoma
Lake Ronk.JPG
Location Suffolk County, New York, United States
Coordinates 40°49′42″N 073°07′18″W / 40.82833°N 73.12167°W / 40.82833; -73.12167 (Lake Ronkonkoma (lake))
Type kettle lake
Primary inflows groundwater
Primary outflows underground
Basin countries United States
Surface area 243 acres (0.98 km2)
Max. depth 95 ft (29 m)
Surface elevation 52 ft (16 m)

Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island's largest freshwater lake, is in Suffolk County, New York, United States, and has a circumference of about 2 miles (3.2 km), and is 0.65 miles (1.05 km) across on average.[1] A kettle lake formed by retreating glaciers, it is owned by the Town of Islip under the terms of the Nichols Patent. The land around it is controlled by three town governments - Smithtown, Islip and Brookhaven. The separation originated because three different Indian communities claimed lands on different shores, and these claims continued when the tribes gave separate deeds to the land under their control. The name Ronkonkoma comes from an Algonquian expression meaning "boundary fishing-lake", also earlier written as Raconkumake and Raconkamuck.[2]


Smithtown founder Richard Smith's original holdings included the headwaters of the Nissequogue River east to a "freshwater pond called Raconkamuck," which translates as "the boundary fishing place" in the Algonquian language. What is now known as Lake Ronkonkoma served as a boundary between lands occupied by four Indian communities: Nissequogues, Setaukets, Secatogues and Unkechaugs.

The Smithtown side of the lake was settled by the 1740s, but it was not until the late 1890s that the area gained widespread public attention. That's when boarding houses and hotels were erected to accommodate a growing number of tourists drawn by claims that the lake's waters had special healing powers. By the 1920s, beach pavilions had sprung up. The Long Island Rail Road, which was completed to nearby Lakeland in 1842 (the depot was moved to Ronkonkoma in 1883), helped transform what had been a sleepy farming hamlet.

The Lake was created by a retreating glacier. Portions of its irregular basin are unusually deep for Long Island, but most of the lake is less than 15 feet (4.6 m) deep. As a rule of thumb, it is unproductive to fish deeper than 15 feet (4.6 m) in Lake Ronkonkoma because there is seldom enough dissolved oxygen to sustain fish beyond this depth. The primary gamefish are Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.

Lake Ronkonkoma holds large Bass but locating them is a challenge due to the scarcity of natural structure to attract these fish. Chain pickerel are extremely rare. In the last two decades, white perch and yellow perch populations have increased to the point of upsetting the ecological balance of the lake. Maximum depth: 65 feet (20 m). Area: 243 acres (0.98 km2):

There have been unsubstantiated rumors of Piranha being caught in the lake over the past 2 decades. The idea that schools of piranha are ravaging the depths of Lake Ronkonkoma is unfounded and highly unlikely, as there undoubtedly would have been more attacks on bathers and more evidence of devoured fish. Actual specimens "caught" in the lake (or at least presented by people in a glass jar in the mid-1990s) have been either proven to have not come from the lake, or have been Pacu, a different species that looks very similar but is harmless and has a limited presence in the lake. The majority of human interaction (i.e. bites) typically stems from Pike (Esox) which are known to be moderately aggressive, though the Pike are typically located in the marshlands adjacent to the lake off of Portion Road. Bites that have been reported on feet and the lower body in shallow water are likely to have been caused by turtles, which also have a moderately strong presence in the lake and may have a tendency to bite when threatened or irritated.

Summer Resort[edit]

Lake Ronkonkoma was a popular Long Island summer resort in the late 19th century early 20th century. There were a few boarding houses in town. One of the hotels on the lake was the Lake Front Hotel situated on twenty-four acres of land on the Lakes shore. Most of the original settlers and local residents chose to live away from the lakefront. The land one half mile or so beyond the lake was flatter and better suited for farming. Little by little, the lakefront developed into a fashionable haven for the wealthier people who had summer estates there.

In 1911, the Long Island Motor Parkway was completed from Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma. Traveling the winding Motor Parkway to reach the lake in those days was an adventure in itself.

Lake Ronkonkoma became a summer resort and it was quite exclusive, a place for the wealthy and famous from New York City. All summer long there was boating and swimming at the lake. Girls were handicapped by having to wear cumbersome bathing suits, stockings and shoes when they went swimming, but boys often went skinny dipping when they were alone. For many, the fall was the best season of all. That was when hunting began. Shotguns of various gauges were to be found in just about every house. Hunting was important around the lake area until the 1930s. When the ice was safe, the young people arranged skating parties on the shore where skaters could warm their hands and feet. A favorite game on the ice was Crack the Whip.

The perimeter of the lake itself began to change from residential to commercial. As the lake front become less and less exclusive, some of the people sold their homes and moved away. George Raynor, whose family had lived at the lake since the 1840s, bought an estate in 1921. This became the well-known Raynor Beach.

Lake Ronkonkoma adjusted to a two-season pattern, as resort towns must do. The economy of the town depended on a good season, and the lake itself become a great natural resource that brought work and money to many of the Lake Ronkonkoma residents. At the end of each season, Lake Ronkonkoma returned to the normalcy of a small town. The Lake had been accustomed to having large numbers of people in town, and at the end of each summer season many of Its people had gone away. Over time the Lakefront community the town of Lake Ronkonkoma began to lose its intimacy.

In the 1950s, the original owners began to sell their beaches to others. Many of the beach front pavilions, which were left unattended, burned down. On October 4, 1962, Brookhaven Town purchased land for the first town-owned beach on the lake. The unattended sections of beaches began to deteriorate. Rubbish, tin cans and bottles lined the shores in many places. Since the shoreline lay in between three townships, there was no central control. A Tri-Town Committee for the Preservation of Lake Ronkonkoma has been formed. The committee has agreed that the three towns would treat the pollution problems as a single problem, affecting all of the Long Island residents.

Rumors and Legends[edit]

Aside from the rumors of Piranha lurking in the lake, the most commonly known legend of Lake Ronkonkoma is the "Lady of the Lake".

Lady of the Lake[edit]

A supposed Native American woman that committed suicide by drowning herself in the lake during the colonial era. There are several variations of the legend, most of which lead to the woman intentionally drowning herself. It is said that at least once a year, a virile and attractive male between the ages of 18 and 38 is "taken" by the lady to be her lover. Mysteriously, there is truth to the claims that at least one male within that age range drowns in the lake at regular intervals, but drownings are common in any lake that is open to the public. It is perhaps the accuracy that it is typically a male within that age range that makes the story more mysterious.

The most widely acknowledged interpretation of the legend is that a Native American woman fell in love with a European settler. Forbidden to pursue such love, the woman was forced into an arranged marriage but their love persisted. One evening, she tried to swim across the lake to her lover, suffered fatigue and drowned. She returns every year to claim a man to be with her at the bottom of the lake. Other interpretations say that she rowed to the middle of the lake in a canoe to await the coming of her lover, but when he did not come for her she committed suicide by drowning herself. Another similar variation of the legend states that she rowed to the middle of the lake to await him, and as he swam out to her, he fatigued and drowned. Overwhelmed with grief, she drowned herself to join him. Another still states that the woman was so overwhelmed with grief and sadness that she was to be in an arranged marriage, she drowned herself in protest.

Lesser known variations of the legend indicate that her tribe was assaulted by European settlers, one among them being her lover. Betrayed, she drowned herself in grief. Possibly the least known of all the variations is that the woman willingly sacrificed herself by tying herself to a heavy stone and pitching herself off the side of her canoe. This was to appease the god Manitou who had beset her tribe with a terrible curse.

For all intents and purposes, the Lady of the Lake is not malicious. Her claiming of men is out of love and need, for she does not understand that she is also condemning these individuals to death. Her loneliness overwhelms her and she reaches out to these men in desperation. Some men, likely in the mood to cause a stir, claim that when they swim beyond the boundaries of the designated swim area (marked typically by buoyed rope), they feel "cold fingers" touch and try to grasp at their ankles.[citation needed]

There is a mural dedicated to the Lady of the Lake on the side of the strip mall on Rosevale Avenue, painted and updated regularly by a local artist, Michael Murphy.

The Bottomless Lake[edit]

Rumored to have no bottom, Lake Ronkonkoma has deep depressions that seem to go on forever. It is impossible for a human being to go all the way to the bottom unassisted as the depressions are well in excess of 100 feet (30 m) at its southeastern side.[3] A diving expedition in the early half of the 20th century revealed just how deep these depressions go, but myths continue to persist of the "bottomless lake". Such rumors include the presence of a "whirlpool" in the dead center of the lake that drags people down into the bottomless hole where they drown and are never seen again. Similarly, it is said that the deepest depression forms an underground tunnel that empties out into Long Island Sound, and through this tunnel myriad creatures from the sea pour in. A popular rumor among wildly imaginative kids is that the depressions are gateways to Hell.

The Pirate Cove[edit]

Reportedly, in the earliest days of Lake Ronkonkoma, an inlet connected the lake to the ocean, and pirates would sail into the lake proper to sink their treasures for retrieval at a later time. More often, the lake was supposedly used an execution ground. Rumors of a skeleton found bound in chains near the Ronkonkoma Beach have never been proven.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Bright, William (2007). Native American placenames of the United States. Bright University of Oklahoma Press. p. 411.
  3. ^ Template:Lake Ronkonkoma, New York

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