A January 1985 editorial in the Lincoln Star summarized the lake's history: "The lake has gone from great expectations to broken dreams, from romantic gaiety to a public image of virtual nothingness, from 1960s skepticism to 1970s grudging admiration, to grave uncertainty and is now on the brink of final vindication. The story of Capitol Beach is apt to remain one of the most unusual in the annals of Lincoln's history."
The area known over the years as Chester Basin, The Great Basin, Gregory Basin, Burlington Beach and Salt Lake has a long and complicated history, according to newspaper reports.
Salt first made the area famous. By the early 1860s, several companies were extracting salt. When that industry declined, the water attracted people in the late 1880s who felt it had curative benefits.
By 1895 a dike channeled Oak Creek water into a lake, and Burlington Lake was born.
It was a time when the area was a showcase -- Lincoln's Coney Island, some called it. William McKinley made a presidential campaign speech there in 1896. Steamboat rides carried as many as 50 people. The area provided several decades worth of entertainment. Carnival rides, a saltwater swimming area, a park, a ballroom, a wooden roller coaster, a fun house and electric bumper cars all had their heyday at one time or another in the lake's history.
Although Salt Lake was drained in the late 1950s to make way for the interstate, it wasn't gone for long. In June 1961, the S.E. Copple family announced plans for a 350-acre boating lake featuring docks, boating facilities and site for lakeside summer homes. Four years later, some 25 homes had been built or were under construction on the lake's west shore.
During the early 1970s, a donation from Copple helped the lake become the training ground for Nebraska's mythical Navy, members of the University of Nebraska Crew team.
Perhaps the biggest plans were laid in September 1972, when developer Ed Copple won city approval to build 974 apartments and townhouses on 63 acres.
The proposed development turned complicated in 1983 when Commonwealth Savings went under because S.E. Copple had shifted his 75 percent interest in Capitol Beach Inc. to Commonwealth Savings Co. Capitol Beach Inc. owned most of the lots and paid for street lighting, snow removal and the lake's maintenance.
Homeowners spent many troubling months wondering what to do, how to buy their land and where their lot lines were. Eventually homeowners organized themselves to buy their lots and to take over lake maintenance.