CAMDEN COUNTY, Mo. – Every year, people visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park for the beautiful views, springs and caves. But OzarksFirst learned there’s more to the park than just sightseeing.
Senior Parks Specialist Jacob Bryant says the location has plenty of family history. Its story starts with the town of Gunter.
“Ha Ha Tonka was named Gunter before it was Ha Ha Tonka,” Bryant said. “A man by the name of Kellogg was looking for investors to build this area up as a park. He found not only an investor but somebody who was interested in purchasing the property he had.”
Robert McClure Snyder was interested. Snyder was a wealthy businessman from Kansas City, Missouri.
“He first visited the area in June of 1902. He fell in love with it, came back, purchased 5,000 acres of the surrounding area, and decided to build a self-functioning estate.”
Construction began in 1905. A year later, Snyder was killed in one of the state’s first car accidents.
“It was horrible news. Word finally traveled back here to Ha Ha Tonka. It was devastating for the community. At the time there were mostly poor farmers that were working around here. There were stonemasons that came from Scotland to work here. This was their only opportunity to have a job. So the news was really heartbreaking to the community.”
Snyder had three adult sons who still lived in Gunter at the time. They decided to finish the job their father started.
“They had fell in love with the townspeople. They decided to finish the castle and built it using sandstone.
“Each stone was on a cart that was pulled by mules. It took them about 20 years to finish the castle. In the 1920s it was complete.”
Bryant tells OzarksFirst a tragedy happened in 1942.
“One of the employees built a fire with many fireplaces. There was debris in the chimney that caught on fire, and an ember landed on the roof when at the blink of an eye they had a roof fire three-and-a-half stories up. It consumed the building and burned for six days, and six nights. The fire actually spread all the way down to the carriage house and burnt that the same day.”
Ha Ha Tonka State Park was created in 1978. To this day, you can still see some of the damage.