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This Month in Missouri History

Image of Ha Ha Tonka state park with mansion on the bluffHa Ha Tonka

For centuries, an awe-inspiring landscape of forest, bluffs, cold springs, and caves brought people to the area now known as Ha Ha Tonka. Native American tribes, like the Osage, would frequent the area as well as Daniel Boone and other explorers who would note the natural beauty of the site.

The promise of natural wonder, seclusion, and respite is what initially brought Kansas City businessman Robert M. Snyder to the region in 1903. He fell in love with the land and bought huge tracts of it with plans to build a summer home where he and his family could retreat. Construction began in 1905 on a mansion, water tower, stables, and greenhouses using locally quarried stone.

Snyder would not see his dream home finished. He died in a tragic automobile accident in October 1906. Construction halted while his children decided what to do with the property. After several failed attempts to make the area a state park, the Snyder children decided to finish the mansion, using it as a summer home and building a small resort for others to come and enjoy life away from the city.

Plans for the construction of Bagnell Dam started in 1929, which the Snyders vehemently opposed. They were concerned that the Ha Ha Tonka area would lose much of its waterways, beaches, and caves as well as their resort due to flooding caused by the new dam. They sued Union Electric in hopes to stop the project, ending up with a settlement from the company. From that point, the Snyder mansion would become a hotel until 1942 when a fire started on the roof. The fire soon swallowed everything but the stone walls.

The Snyder family held onto the land for another 36 years until the state of Missouri was finally able to purchase the property. In June 1978, Ha Ha Tonka officially became a state park, allowing everyone the ability to bask in the natural wonders the land holds.

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Beyond the Stacks newsletter. View more "This Month in Missouri History" articles on our newsletter archive!