Summer Haven History
Before the lake was here:
Before Summer Haven Lake existed there were pioneers crossing Nebraska on the Mormon Trail near the Platte River where Fremont is today. The Mormons in 1847 camped near the Platte River that is now the east entrance of the Fremont State Lakes. The first Mormon Pioneer Company established camp along the north bank of the Platte River on April 12, 1847. They spent 4 days repairing and cleaning wagons and clothing while waiting for the remainder of the company to cross the Elkhorn River on log rafts about 14 miles to the southeast. It was near here, under the direction of Brigham Young, that the travelers were first organized into small groups for safety and to establish leadership.
The second pioneer company arrived on June 14, 1847, raising a white flag on a 40 foot cottonwood pole one-half mile east of Summer Haven marking the staging grounds for dividing the wagon parties into organized divisions. The white flag on a staff, called a Liberty Pole, was a symbol that the Mormon’s used as they were marching west to religious freedom.
The lake begins to develop:
The concept of recreational lakes became popular in the early 1960’s. Summer Haven Lake is a good example. During the early 60’s, many more roads were being developed and graveled, therefore, there was a need for gravel. Also the north branch of the Platte Rivers in this area was channeled into the south branch of the Platte and more land was exposed after the water was rerouted. The "new" land that was exposed belonged to the people who had owned the land adjoining the river.
Mr. A. W. Murphy owned the land where Summer Haven Lake is located as well as the land for several other lakes nearby, such as Erin Lake and Lakeview Woods Lake. The area around Summer Haven Lake was called Big Island because, before Summer Haven Lake existed, the area was surrounded by the Platte River.
Before Summer Haven was pumped, it was a sizeable dairy operation. For a number of years there was a large cattle feedlot located on Big Island. Much of the land used for the feed lot was located in the old North Channel. During the early 1900’s, the North Channel was the larger channel of the Platte River. The Summer Haven dike is presently situated along the north side of Ridge Road because that was the location of the North Channel. In the late 1930’s, one of the two channels was damned up, which changed the direction of the river.
Much of the lake was “accretion” ground: which meant that if someone owned a piece of property next to a river you also owned the land to the center of the river. When the channel changed, the land that was once under water now belonged to the person who owned the adjoining property. The area around Summer Haven Lake, Leisure Lake, Erin Lake, Rainbow Lake, Ridgewood Lake and Lake Leba (owned by the Abel family and NEBCO), once covered by river water, all became exposed after the changed direction of the river channel.
The Big Island area was settled by the Murphy, Myers and Hormel families. Hormel Park is located along the Platte River. The Old Knights of Pythians had a park close to Summer Haven located right before the State Lakes. This was the location where the Mormons erected a Liberty Pole near the present entrance to the State Lakes.
Dave Christensen’s father and grandfather had a cabin in the area that was probably build in the 1880’s when the area was a wide open space. Rick Myers’ grandfather bought 27 acres in 1940. Pat Murphy then purchased the farm land north of the Myers' family. Rick Myers' father built a cabin and Rick lived there until he built his present home in 1997 which is just south of Summer Haven.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the river ground around Fremont was being removed for gravel and several lakes were being dug. The current site of Summer Haven Lake was pasture and the topsoil had to be removed before the sand and gravel could be taken and the lake formed. The lakes were dug with hand tools and they used small trucks to remove the dirt. According to Dave Christensen, after all of the roads in Saunders and Dodge Counties had been built and graveled, the companies that had pumped the gravel went out of business. There didn’t seem to be a market for a big hole in the ground with water in it! Christensen remembers that after returning from the service in 1955, they could ride horses where Summer Haven Lake is located and there was pasture and cattle.
Dave Christensen believes that Lakeview Lake was probably the first of the lakes to be pumped for sand. Pat Murphy hired Paul Christensen’s Sand and Gravel Company (no relation to Dave) to pump Summer Haven Lake in 1958. After the lake was dug, Dave Christensen and his family came to the lake for picnics, etc. and built their cabin over the next 20 years. The pumping was completed in 1960. On the first island, referred to as “Skull Island”, there was a road from the island to the point where the Christensen and Murphy cabins were located (lots 60 and 61). Each of the four islands evolved after a tower was set up on each island. As the equipment pumped the sand, gravel and rock, the result was a huge pile of sand that became an island after the lake filled with water. The towers were placed at those locations because the equipment was limited to how far they could pump the sand. Each island had a road from it to shore and the gravel and rock was hauled away by truck. The four islands were the result of the limited capabilities of the equipment and not because of someone’s vision to make it a great ski lake with the island to break the wake of the boats.
Most people at that time didn’t dream that someday people would build cabins on these lakes. But there were some who did. Boyd Ready was one of those people. Ready named Summer Haven Lake (or is it Summerhaven Lake?). Boyd worked for the Civil Service during World War II and spent time in Missouri. While in Missouri he met a man who was pumping sand which was a totally new innovation. Up to this time, sand was removed by using dredges, slips and large cranes.
Boyd decided there was a market for a hole with water in it and leased the lake for 20 years from the Murphy/Christensen family for $50,000. The original lot lease was from 1961 to 1981 and renewed each year for $200. On April 30, 1981 his lease expired and the Murphy/Christensen family took over Summer Haven Lake. The lot lease was then granted for 10 years and the amount increased from $200 per year to $1250. The lake needed work because algae was in the water and the road to the lake had not been well maintained.
When Boyd Ready first leased the lake he was a clothing salesman. He lived in Lincoln and owned cabin #32 presently owned by Denise Hamilton and previously owned by the Fahrnbruchs. Ready was anxious to subdivide the lake into about 120 lots. The Murphys and Christensens decided that around 50 lots was a more realistic number. Ready used a grocery string to put in stakes to mark the lots. The first cabins on the lake were built in 1959 with the majority build in the 1960’s. The first three leases sold were to the Larson, Sikytas and Kruegers, who all lived in Lincoln and were friends of Boyd Ready. The three couples were on their way to Aksarben in Omaha when they stopped by Summer Haven to lease three lots. The Sikytas took lot #24, Kruegers lot #23, and the Larsons lot #25. During the first 20 years, most of the leasees were from Lincoln but some were from Fremont, Omaha and other towns. In the early 1960’s there were no zoning or building requirements. Many were trailer houses (probably 15-20) and only had outside plumbing or privies and many of the cabins were substandard. A few of the trailer houses still exist, but have been built over and around. Most of the boats at that time had 25 hp outboard motors.
In the 1970’s, a Lake Association was formed but lacked structure. The Association did organize the stocking of fish several times and met to discuss the lake. Slowly the boating rules and a few other rules evolved. Many of the rules developed by Christensen/Murphy were from the Nebraska Lake Association and from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Rick Myers recalls that in the 1970’s the fishing was better. He says that many of the fish tend to come from flood water such as catfish, skipjack and carp. The lake has been stocked with game fish, such as bass, crappie and pan fish several times to create a better fishing lake. Back in the 1970’s, ice fishing and skating were much more popular than they are now. Rick recalled “Alaska Joe” drove his Jeep onto the ice to go ice fishing but, unfortunately, his Jeep started to sink into the lake.
There have been two major floods impacting Summer Haven. The first was in 1977 and the second in 1984. Both were caused by an ice jam on the Platte River and caused considerable damage to the lake.
The coves and islands were named first by Boyd Ready and later modified by Dave Christensen. Some of the names are Lakeview Cove, Lakeview Point, Siesta Cove and Siesta Shore. One island is called Skull Island because when the lake was dredged they discovered a number of buffalo bones. The cabins were randomly numbered originally, probably as they were built, but were renumbered after 1981.
In 2000, the Summer Haven Lake Association bought the lake property from Cynthia Murphy Christensen and Larry Murphy. Many cabin owners have added new additions to their cabins and/or done other improvements and some cabins have been removed and new year-round homes built. As Summer Haven Lake has evolved over the years, it has withstood many changes. Yet it still offers us leisure, joy and fun, which will hopefully continue for many future generations to enjoy.