The abandoned Lake Leigh Dam at Ricketts Glen State Park is a towering remnant of an ill-fated hydroelectric project that thankfully failed!
Had the project been successful, it would have fundamentally changed the character of an area that became one on Pennsylvania’s most spectacular state parks.
Today the dam is slowly being reclaimed by Nature, but the abandoned ruins are still easily visible more that 100 years after they were first constructed.
History of the Lake Leigh Dam
The Lake Leigh Dam was built by Colonel Robert Bruce Ricketts, who served the Union Army valiantly as an artillery officer during the Civil War.
In the years after the war, he joined his father and uncle in buying timber land in Columbia, Luzerne and Sullivan counties, eventually owning or controlling more than 80,000 acres of land.
In addition to spawning a profitable lumber business, Colonel Ricketts decided to get into the hydroelectric business in 1907.
A combination of bad construction and bad luck thwarted his plans, however, when The Panic of 1907 hit that same year, the first worldwide financial crisis of the twentieth century.
With his dam deemed too structurally unsound to hold back the amount of water necessary to generate a significant amount of electricity, and investment dollars drying up with the financial crisis, Colonel Ricketts was forced to abandoned the plan.
Lake Leigh (named after Colonel Ricketts youngest daughter, Frances Leigh Ricketts) continued to hold water until 1957, when the State deemed the lake and dam a threat to public safety and intentionally breached it.
Since then the former lakebed has reverted to an acidic shrub swamp and meadow and is considered an excellent habitat for emergent wetland and thicket species of birds.
The crumbling ruins of the dam are reminiscent of some forgotten fortifications, ala “The Wall” on Game of Thrones.
However, you’re much more likely to encounter ducks than monsters behind this barrier.
How to Find the Abandoned Lake Leigh Dam
The hike to the abandoned Lake Leigh Dam is relatively short and flat, covering 0.6 miles with only 67 feet in elevation change.
Parking for the hike as I describe it here is at the Beach Area 2 parking lot, near Lake Jean.
Park at the end of the lot furthest from the beach, and backtrack on the road you took to to reach the parking lot for 100 yards to the trail off to your left.
Follow this trail in the direction of the Falls Trail for 0.4 miles, an easy hike that follows an old road grade (possibly used to haul construction materials for the dam).
At that 0.4 mile mark you’ll reach a fork in the trail; to your right will be the Falls Trail (closed in the winter unless you’re a registered ice hiker), to your left will be the trail you want to follow to the dam.
From the intersection, continue in the direction of the Cherry Run/Mountain Springs trails for 175 yards until you see the dam on the left side of the trail – GPS coordinates for the dam are 41.33606, -76.26898.
Waterfalls Near Lake Leigh Dam
When visiting Lake Leigh Dam, but be sure not to miss a beautiful natural attraction nearby.
Lake Leigh Falls (not an officially-named waterfall) is the uppermost waterfall on Kitchen Creek in Glen Leigh, and it is located just a few yards south of the trail and dam.
How differently this area would look today had the hydroelectric dam been a success is anyone’s guess, but certainly scenes like this would not exist or be accessible to the general public.
So next time you’re enjoying the splendor of the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park, leave a little extra time to visit the ruins of the abandoned Lake Leigh Dam upstream.
Exploring the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park is my comprehensive guide to enjoying the most famous waterfall hike in Pennsylvania.
Adams Falls is the easiest-to-reach waterfall at Ricketts Glen, located just off of Route 118 along the Evergreen Trail.
Maple Spring Falls is a 15 foot-tall, off-trail waterfall at Ricketts Glen State Park.
The 10 Best Waterfalls on State Game Lands 13 shows you some of the best waterfalls on land that was also owned by Colonel Ricketts at one time.
32 Abandoned Places in PA You Can Legally Explore is your guide to even more places in PA that continue to fascinate visitors decades after they outlived their intended purposes.
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