Theta Pond’s Not So Beautiful Beginnings

by Ammie Bryant, Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History Director

Google “beautiful spots in Stillwater,” and chances are Theta Pond will top the list of search results.  Many visitors to the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History are surprised to discover that the beautiful campus spot had much more utilitarian beginnings.  

Today, Theta Pond is the home of many water fowl and serves as a center of beauty for Oklahoma State University. Theta Pond was the site of revelry during the 1970s era streaker nights as throngs of rowdy students shoved the giant Western Sizzlin Bull into the middle of the pond along with their fellow students. My own husband has fond memories of his friends tossing him into the drink and wading through the pond’s muddy bowels to reach its banks.  Each Homecoming, students and alumni alike march past its still water only disturbed by the beautiful fountains at its center. Students meet there. Couples go on their first date there, get engaged there, and get married there.  Memories are made here–for students, alumni, and Stillwater citizens alike.

Most people know that the first and oldest campus construction built for classrooms was Old Central. But before Old Central was built, the first buildings were a barn, station laboratory, and a house for the president of the college.  After all, as a land grant college and an agricultural experiment station, the housing and care of livestock would have been paramount to the longevity of the college. It didn’t hurt that funds were limited and reserved for specific projects either.

It was imperative that a dependable source of water be secured as well–both for the crops and for the livestock.  Willow Pond provided the first standing water source for the experiment station. It had been dug west of the College Barn in 1893 and 1894.  This small body of water was less than an acre.  Water continued to be scarce.  In 1894, the college was hauling drinking water from a mile away.  

Work began to develop the second pond by further digging out a depression near the south central section of the experiment station. The top layers of soil were removed to create a dirt embankment, lowering the elevation in the area to encourage the collection of runoff water.  Thirteen wells had been dug so far, and only the one that had been dug west of this pond had provided water. A windmill was built to pump water from the well to a water tank near the second pond. The water tank could hold 300 barrels. From the water tank, water was then piped to the experiment station laboratory.

Eventually a cistern was placed in the second pond.  The cistern filtered the runoff water and the well water before being pumped into the water tank.  The horses at the experiment station had almost exclusive use of the surface water at this pond, which led to its name, “Horse Pond.”

Horse Pond retained its monicker until the early 1920s.  In November 1922, the nearby old college barn, also known as Horse Barn, burned and administrators decided not to rebuild it.  Horse Pond, located to the southwest of the barn was no longer the water source for the college’s horses or other livestock and became known as Theta Pond, named for the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority located south of the pond across College Avenue, now known as University Avenue.

Source: A History of the Oklahoma State University Campus. Oklahoma State University Centennial Histories Series. By J. Lewie Sanderson, R. Dean McGlamery, David Peters