Observations of increasing water color and organic carbon concentrations in lakes are widespread across the Northern Hemisphere. The drivers of these trends are debated. Declining atmospheric sulfur deposition has been put forward as an important underlying factor, since recovery from acidification enhances mobility of organic matter from surrounding soils. This would suggest that the current browning represents a return to a more natural state. This study explores historical lake data from Sweden—1935 to 2015—providing a unique opportunity to see how and why water color has varied during almost a century. The data shows that sulfur deposition has not been the primary driver of water color trends over this period. I propose that the observed browning is to a large extent driven by a major transition from agriculture to forestry.