Buckeye Lake originally was a small pond that eighteenth century Ohio Indians called "Big Swamp" or "Big Pond." It remained insignificant to white settlers until the 1820s, when Ohioans began construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Workers built a dike that diverted water from the south fork of the Licking River into the small pond, which then became known as the Licking Summit Reservoir. This part of the canal project was completed in 1830.
As the reservoir began to fill, some sphagnum moss broke away from the swampy ground that was being covered. The moss created a floating island that still exists today, known as the Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve. Although the island once encompassed almost fifty acres, it has been shrinking in recent years. In addition to producing a crop of cranberries each year, the island is also home to some interesting plants and wildlife.
As canals declined in popularity and use in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Ohio and Erie Canal was abandoned and began to deteriorate. The canal's decline did not mean an end to the Licking Summit Reservoir. Instead, the state legislature renamed it Buckeye Lake and made it a public park in 1894. By the early twentieth century, the reservoir had become an attractive location for recreational activities. An electric trolley system, the Columbus, Buckeye Lake and Newark Interurban Electric Railway, connected the park to nearby urban areas. In 1906, a number of men in the area formed the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, which still exists to this day.
By the 1910s, Buckeye Lake boasted an amusement park on its north shore, as well as a number of hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that catered to tourists. In addition, speakers drew huge crowds as part of a traveling Chautauqua Assembly. In the 1920s, members of the Ku Klux Klan leadership spent their summers at Buckeye Lake, and local newspapers attest to KKK rallies that attracted thousands of people to the area.
The Great Depression changed the environment of Buckeye Lake in a significant way. The rail line went out of business, which meant that many people could no longer afford to travel to the park. A number of families began to live in their summer cottages year around, because they could no longer afford their more expensive homes in the cities. The amusement park continued to operate during this era, constantly working to add attractions that would attract more visitors, such as a roller coaster, a roller skating rink, a nightclub, and the Crystal Ballroom and Pool. The ballroom attracted a number of famous performers, such as Guy Lombardo, Count Basie, Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, among others. Grand entertainments continued throughout the 1940s, and the amusement park attracted as many as fifty thousand people each day.
In 1949, the state of Ohio designated Buckeye Lake as a state park. The amusement park began to decline in popularity by the late 1950s and continued to deteriorate in the 1960s. The crowds that had once flocked to the park had disappeared, and buildings were torn down one by one. Visitors to Buckeye Lake today can find only one remaining remnant of the old Buckeye Lake Amusement Park, a fountain that is located as the Buckeye Lake State Park's North Shore.
Although the amusement park no longer exists, the Buckeye Lake State Park still attracts a number of visitors to the area each year. In addition, many people own vacation homes near the lake or live in the area year around.