Then and Now: Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is one of Ohio State University’s most iconic landmarks. Many students are familiar with its accompanying wildlife social media sensations including Afro Duck and the crew (will we ever see you all again?), but many are less familiar with Mirror Lake’s over 100-year history.

Let’s take a closer look at the lake’s transformation over the years.

I. Beginnings

Back in 1873, Mirror Lake was not simply, well, Mirror Lake, or at least the way we know it today. A stream called “Neil Run” flowed from the Olentangy River to High Street, emptying into a wetland stretching across what is today the entire South Oval.


II. Narrow escape from death

Eventually, however, the water was diverted into a sewer system and the remaining wetland, once fed by an underground bog system, dried up. The lake was faced with its seemingly inevitable demise.

But do not fear, for the great people of Ohio State stood up and took action against this blasphemy; they demanded that water should once again flow into the area and university officials listened to their pleas.

III. Transformations and additions

Mirror Lake used to have islands that were attainable via bridges. These awesome tree-covered islands would eventually fall victim to a storm that damaged the Columbus area. Although a tragedy, Mirror Lake was reconstructed and the memorial fountain, still seen today, was added as a replacement.


In more recent history, Mirror Lake has also enjoyed some renovations. A brick floor as well as a concrete boundary were added to prevent erosion and infiltration of groundwater. In addition, the water in the lake, which drains into the Olentangy River, is supplied by the city of Columbus’s municipal water supply.

The Browning Amphitheatre also accompanies Mirror Lake, located off its southern bank. Originally the Browning Dramatic Society dedicated the amphitheatre to the performances of Shakespeare’s plays; however, the society later dissolved and the amphitheatre turned into an outdoor study space for students.


Eventually, however, a group called Ohio Staters, Inc. would bring new life to the amphitheatre by renovating it into an outdoor performance center that is today used for concerts, plays, dance shows, and of course, the occasional wedding or two.

IV. Accompanying traditions

Mirror Lake has always hosted student activity. One (no longer active) tradition was a tug-of-war competition over the lake between freshmen and sophomore students. Another (actually active) tradition is when Ohio Staters, Inc. hosts their annual “Light Up the Lake” celebration. During this event the trees surrounding Mirror Lake are decorated with winter lights and students gather to see them alighted. This winter event also features musical performances, speakers and of course, “Carmen, Ohio.”

V. Legendary status today

During its early years, Mirror Lake was close to being paved over and replaced by just another road on Ohio State’s campus but thankfully its historical significance and scenic value make it one of the most revered places on campus and a “must” for your next Instagram picture. Although it has undergone many transformations over the years, Mirror Lake holds a firm place in Ohio State’s history and will without a doubt continue to house traditions and Buckeye memories in the future.