CAMDEN COUNTY, Mo. – In 1841, portions of Benton, Morgan and Pulaski counties helped form what is now Camden County. Daphne Jeffries, a volunteer at the Camden County Historical Society, gave OzarksFirst a history lesson.
Jeffries said in the 1800s, the region was known for progressive farming. In the 1930s, everything changed. You know how the Lake of the Ozarks gets so busy on a holiday weekend, or when it’s warm out? Well, it’s all thanks to something that was built outside the county: the Bagnell Dam.
“That was a defining moment in our county,” Jeffries said. “It was a dividing thing because some people were for it and some people were against it. Just like with any change that happens anywhere, you have pros and cons.”
Folks who lived along the Osage River didn’t want to lose their home.
“That would be normal anywhere, whether you were building a highway or building. If you’re displacing people from a home they’ve had for generations, then they’re going to be resentful. They were a little bit resistant to it.”
But in 1929, the Union Electric company hired more than 20,000 people to build the Bagnell Dam across the Osage River.
“I don’t know that it was a vote of the people. It was a private function. It was done to create the electricity that was going to start being needed. Before the 1920s, very few people had things that were electric. So, the dam was brought in as a tool in the progress of civilization.”
It created the Lake of the Ozarks.
“Back in the probably the 1940s and in the 1950s it definitely was a fisherman’s paradise here. Families came from all over, rented a cabin, went fishing and then as time went on, it wasn’t so much the rustic cabins that people wanted. They wanted things to be more up-to-date.”
Lake of the Ozarks eventually turned into what is now a tourist lake. It’s part of what turned some vacationers like John Page into homeowners.
“This is a county that’s changed so much since I’ve been here,” Page said. “When I came here, nobody knew what the word condo meant. Now we’ve got so many condos and second homeowners. We have people from all over the country that come here.”
Page moved to Camden County in 1981 from Springfield, Illinois.
“My ex in-laws had retired down here. I started vacation here for about five years and decided to move here in 1981.”
He told OzarksFirst what has kept him in the area for so long is the diversity.
“We have people from all over the country that come here two to three weeks out of the year. We have people who have decided to make this the location that they have Thanksgiving and Christmas. This place went from fishing boats and 16 to 27-foot boats to where we have yachts out there.”
Page said the county has thrived off tourism and the variety of things to do.
“People finding a place that’s got some serenity as far as woods, wildlife, fishing and diversity of people. We’ve got everything here. It’s anything and everything you want. Somewhere along the line, you can find a part of it here.”
He told OzarksFirst he served as Camden County Sheriff for 16 years, which is still the longest term in county history.
“When I took over the Sheriff’s Office in 1993, I had 31 personnel total counting jailers, dispatchers and everything else. When I left it was 111. So, it did grow. On the other hand, I had a group of reserve deputies that at one point was as high as 30 people. These were retired cops or just people who wanted to help. They would show up when we had something go on.”
Overall, Page said it was a privilege serving his community.
“It was a good community that supported us.”
Camden County is full of stories, which is just one of many reasons why Daphne Jeffries fell in love with it.
“My mother said we came down back in the 1950s when I was a child,” Jeffries said. “When they packed up to go back home, I cried because I didn’t want to leave. I guess that’s partly why I was drawn back here. It’s a wonderful place to live.”