Water has played a significant role in the history of human settlement and civilization.  Naturally, the springs and creeks of the Illinois River Watershed in northwestern Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma have been the lifeblood of our communities for generations.  With your help, we continue to celebrate the importance of water in our surroundings and to develop the lake at the Watershed Sanctuary to serve and to inspire the community well into the next century. Read on to see how you play an important part!


Long before Cave Springs became a town, life thrived and revolved around the cool, clear waters coming from Cave Springs Cave.  Pre-historically, the Osage Indians traveled by foot all over northwestern Arkansas to hunt and forage, and they were known to make stops in areas with reliable, clean spring water.  It is highly likely that they discovered and utilized the springs in the area that is today known as Cave Springs.

European migrants began settling here in the 1830s.  At that time, the spring still flowed freely from the cave all the way to its confluence with Osage Creek.  In 1852, Elijah Allen, one of the first settlers of Cave Springs, built an earthen dam on this spring in order to power a sorghum mill.  Mr. A.A. Bartlett and family purchased the property in the late 1800s and built a lovely home on the bluff overlooking the valley and the town.  During this time period, the spring became widely known as Bartlett’s Spring.


Bartlett Spring Visitors

 Early settlers of Cave Springs spent a lot of time by the spring, even in their Sunday best!


Soon after Mr. Bartlett’s son, Wilton, assumed ownership of this property in the early 1900s, the earthen dam built by Elijah Allen broke, so Bartlett installed a new concrete dam in 1914 and named the resulting lake “Loch Lono” after his young daughter, Lono Bartlett.


Loch Lono Dam

Visitors to the Watershed Sanctuary in November 2013 stood on top of Bartlett Dam, which was built by Wilton Mortimer Bartlett 100 years ago.


The lake maintained this name until Mr. E.L. Keith purchased the property in 1947, renaming it “Lake Keith” and converting it into a fishing resort that attracted visitors from all over the region.  For approximately 20 years, the city’s drinking water supply came directly from the cave spring and was managed by Mr. Keith.


Lake Keith Resort

This aerial photograph of the Lake Keith Resort shows apartment buildings, a swimming pool, a skating rink, and other amenities that are no longer on the property.


For several years following the demise of the Lake Keith Resort, the lake property sat abandoned.  Many folks moved to Cave Springs without any context for the namesake of their new home.  Unbeknownst to most, a cave spring was nestled into the hillside just a quarter mile from the major highway through town.


In 2012, this property was purchased by the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.  The property now serves as a base for education in preserving, protecting and restoring our watershed.  This initiative has been endorsed and supported by numerous partners and sponsors who share our passion for this mission.  The public venues of the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary and Watershed Learning Center are a collaborative effort among diverse stakeholders, and they represent an investment in conservation, water quality and watershed education.


Cave Spring Current

 The spring at Cave Springs Cave emits nearly 6-million gallons of water per day into the Illinois River Watershed.


Obviously, the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary has had a rich lineage of previous owners, uses, and titles.  Historically, the lake on this property has changed names with each major change in ownership, and we are looking to carry that tradition into the future.


Inside Bartlett DamThis shot was taken inside of Bartlett Dam, where changing rooms used to be.



Here’s where our stakeholders come in (yes, that means you!).  It’s your turn to become a part of the history of our watershed by helping us to name the lake at the Watershed Sanctuary.


In the coming weeks we will be announcing  a “Name the Lake” contest to gather ideas from the community on how to christen the lake in a way that carries our mission, our vision and our ideals into the next century.  Stay tuned to our blog and our Facebook page for information on how to participate in shaping this special piece of history in the Illinois River Watershed.



Nature in Progress





Encyclopedia of Arkansas

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Related Posts:

A New Chapter for the Lake at Cave Springs

100 Years Later… Draining the Lake at Cave Springs

Lake of the Watershed