Ha Ha Tonka – From Dream Home to Uncertainty

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The "Castle" at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Construction and financial issues jeopardized the future of Ha Ha Tonka Castle in the Missouri Ozarks after the death of the owner, Robert McClure Snyder, Sr.

In 1905, the construction of a European-style stone mansion known as Ha Ha Tonka Castle began on top of a 250-foot high cliff a few miles outside Camdenton, Missouri. Robert McClure Snyder, a wealthy, self-made businessman from Kansas City, had purchased 5,400 acres in the Hahatonka region of the Missouri Ozarks to preserve its rugged scenic beauty and build his dream home.

By October, 1906, the outside of the mansion was finished except for some remaining work on the roof. Snyder would not live to see its completion. He died as the result of a car accident on October 27, 1906, while in Kansas City.

The Snyder Family Corporation

After Snyder’s death, work at Hahatonka quickly came to a standstill. Some workers left or were let go; others stayed to finish work that was already in progress. Large quantities of plaster of Paris continued to be shipped for the mansion’s interior. The cabins that housed many of the workmen were deserted. Snyder’s dream home became the responsibility of his sons and would be overseen by his eldest son, Robert M. Snyder, Jr.

Robert M. Snyder, Sr. had several successful business interests, the main one being the Snyder Gas Company in Kansas City. After his death, large gas companies forced the rates so low that the Snyder family had to sell the company for less than its value. His other business interests also suffered which prevented his sons from continuing the work on the mansion. The Snyder sons, Robert Jr., Leroy, and Kenneth, formed the Snyder Estate Company, Inc., a corporation that would hold the title to Hahatonka.

Tourist Attraction and Private Estate

Despite the Snyder family’s finances, Hahatonka was becoming well-known and attracting more tourists. Several Missouri governors wanted to make the site a state park. The first proposal was made by Governor Herbert S. Hadley in 1909. Governor Hadley had visited Hahatonka and knew the history of it. He felt Missouri should acquire the site as a state park. His proposal passed in the Senate but failed in the House by one vote. Three other governors were interested in the area becoming a state park: Frederick D. Gardner, Arthur M. Hyde, and Phil M. Donnelly. The proposal failed each time.

By 1922, during Arthur Hyde’s term as governor, the finances of the Snyder family improved. They decided to finish the interior of the mansion. Robert Jr. and Leroy Snyder returned to Hahatonka to finalize the arrangements. Carpenters started with the third floor. When that was finished, the Snyders moved into the mansion. Six months later, in 1923, the second floor was finished and the families moved downstairs to that floor. The big rooms on the first floor were finished by 1926. The 60-room mansion was a private country estate, a weekend and summer home with plenty of rooms for guests.

The big spring at the base of the cliff was cold, clear blue water that flowed into a pond at the nearby mill, then down a 14-foot drop to the lake. The lake held large crawfish which were trapped and shipped weekly to fish markets in St. Louis and Chicago. The crawfish shipments increased to twice a week and provided a steady income for the Snyder families. There was a resort on the property where guests could enjoy boating and had access to a beach. All of this was about to change.

The Beginning of Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks

There were rumors that a big dam was to be built at Bagnell, Missouri. This was during the Great Depression. People were out of work and the dam and power plant would provide jobs for thousands of people from all over the country. This dam would impound the Osage River and create the Lake of the Ozarks, the largest man-made lake in the United States at the time of construction. The backwaters would extend to the Niangua, Grand Glaize, Grand, and Pomme de Terre Rivers, and would encroach on Hahatonka. The Snyders took this all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. They received a settlement but the building of Bagnell Dam would change Hahatonka forever.

Sources:

  1. Moreland, Fern, editor, et al, Camden County Historian 1985-87: The History of Ha Ha Tonka, Camden County Historical Society
  2. Blair, Les, Ha Ha Tonka “Land of the Laughing Water,” Ozark Maid Candy Kitchen, 1999.