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The Great Lakes Didn’t Always Have The Names They Do Today

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

When you think of the Great Lakes, you think: Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. But did you know that over the last 14,000 years the lakes had a variety of names?

As the ice shelf receded from the last ice age, the Great Lakes Region topography was constantly shifting and forming different lake beds.  Some of these lakes looked drastically different than they do today, and because of this they had completely different names than today.

14,000 Years Ago – Lake Chicago and Lake Maumee

Only the southernmost portion of Lake Michigan was exposed, forming a lake that slightly spilled outside it’s southern banks.  This lake was known as Lake Chicago.

Lake Erie was the only other lake that wasn’t covered in ice and it too had spilled over it’s modern day banks forming a lake named Maumee.

9,000 Years Ago – Lake Algonquin

During this time period in the Great Lake Region’s history, much of the ice had receded, exposing Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  At this time, these two lakes were part of the same water system (technically they are still 1 lake today, but we recognize them as 2) and this large lake, bordered by ice, was known as Lake Algonquin.

Also during this time Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were pretty similar to how you see them today.

7,000 Years Ago – Lake Chippewa and Lake Stanley 

Something very interesting happened during this time in the lake’s history.  For the first time since the ice age ended, the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers were free of ice and meltwater flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.  This caused a dramatic draining of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, revealing lot’s of land that is now covered by water.  The drained Lake Michigan was no longer directly connected to Lake Huron and formed a much smaller lake known as Lake Chippewa.

Lake Huron also looked drastically different, and was technically connected to Lake Superior, making it a massive lake that was known as Lake Stanley.

4,000 Years Ago

It wasn’t until about 4,000 years ago that the lakes took the basic shape we see today.  One notable thing to mention is that for a short period of time Michigan had two straits separating the peninsulas, the Mackinac Straits and another just south of Mackinac.

To learn more about the Great Lakes, you can listen to the clip below, or head over to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website!

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