After a fire destroyed Ha Ha Tonka Castle, a 60-room mansion used as a hotel, no plans were made to restore it. Instead, the ruins became part of a state park.
When Robert McClure Snyder, Sr. died unexpectedly in 1906, he left his dream home of a 60-room mansion in the Missouri Ozarks unfinished. His three sons formed a corporation, the Snyder Estate Company, Inc., to hold the title. The interior of the mansion was completed in 1926. The Snyder families had a summer and weekend country estate in a region known as Ha Ha Tonka with scenery that included jagged cliffs, clear blue lakes, hiking trails, caves, and a private beach.
In 1929, four months before the stock market crash, Union Electric of St. Louis started construction of Bagnell Dam. This would impound the Osage River and create Lake of the Ozarks, the largest man-made lake in the United States at that time. Hundreds of trees were cut down and low-lying homes and communities were relocated to make way for the dam. When the reservoir began to fill, water encroached on the Hahatonka property. The Snyder Estate Company, Inc., led by the eldest son Robert M. Snyder, Jr., and Union Electric went to court. The Snyders were awarded $200,000 for damages which helped pay their legal fees. After the death of Robert, Jr. the mansion was used as a hotel for a little more than five years until it was destroyed by fire on October 21, 1942.
Ha Ha Tonka Castle in Ruins
The fire destroyed the mansion and the stable. The 80-foot high water tower was built for such an emergency. Large fire hoses were on every floor of the mansion. Yet, when the time came, the water pressure from the tower was inconsistent. The Snyders did not have any insurance.
The devastation of the fire took its toll. The widow of Robert, Jr. and the two surviving brothers discontinued the Snyder Estate Company and one of the brothers, Leroy Snyder, then became the sole owner of Ha Ha Tonka and formed a new corporation, Hahatonka Park, Inc. A motel called Hahatonka Lodge was built near the old grist mill site but wasn’t successful and was eventually torn down.
Over the next 25 years or so, several offers were made to develop the property but for various reasons, none of them were finalized. The closest the property came to being developed into vacation homes and a luxury hotel was in 1974. The project was abandoned due to the recession.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources Purchases Ha Ha Tonka
In December, 1978, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources acquired 2,697 acres of the Hahatonka region and named it Ha Ha Tonka State Park. As a state park, it would focus on a combination of the castle ruins and the rugged natural beauty that first attracted Robert Snyder, Sr. The land would stay undeveloped and the castle would be stabilized but would remain in ruins.
Today, the ruins remind visitors that man-made things don’t last but nature is constant. One man’s dream still exists in the form of preserved, unspoiled scenic beauty a few miles outside Camdenton, Missouri.
- Moreland, Fern, editor, et al, Camden County Historian 1985-87: The History of Ha Ha Tonka, Camden County Historical Society
- Blair, Les, Ha Ha Tonka “Land of the Laughing Water,” Ozark Maid Candy Kitchen, 1999