Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka.

Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka

Field review by the editors.

Camdenton, Missouri

The 19th and 20th century rich of America built their copycat European castles where they pleased -- in dramatic private forests, on mountain crests, clinging to rocky river isles (After all, a modern feudal lord's command of his regional realm demands a singular vista, not some cookie cutter row castle view). When one of these stately homes fall into picturesque wrecks accessible to the public, they may enter the field of officially-sanctioned ruin tourism.

Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka.

Ha Ha Tonka is a unique example, and it's been a ruin far longer than it's been anything else.

It was the vision of Robert McClure Snyder, a superrich businessman from Kansas City. In 1904 he bought over eight square miles of land in the Missouri Ozarks, a private fiefdom for the exclusive enjoyment of himself, his family, and his guests. At the top of a 250-foot-high cliff, overlooking a lake fed by an inexhaustible spring, he built a mansion -- or, rather, he paid hundreds of laborers to build it for him. They dug quarries to mine the sandstone for its walls, and a sawmill to cut the timber for its floors and beams.

Walkway to 80-foot-tall stone tower.

The house had no name, but the place was called Ha Ha Tonka, either an Osage phrase meaning "Laughing Waters" or an exotic-sounding nonsense term coined by the landowner who sold Snyder the property.

And then Robert McClure Snyder died -- killed in October 1906 in one of the first car accidents in Kansas City (he hit his head on a trolley pole). Construction on the mansion passed to his sons, who finally completed it in 1922. Called a "castle" by everyone in the area, it had a ballroom with a roof three stories high, and running water from an 80-foot-tall stone tower built on the highest point of the escarpment. The servants lived under the tanks in the tower and above the stables in the garage, and probably had a less-romantic view of the place.

View of the river.

In 1942, sparks from one of the fireplaces ignited a blaze that quickly burned the building to ashes, leaving just its stone walls and foundation in the center of a small, parched moonscape. It stayed that way, a silent ruin perched on a bluff, until it was bought by the state and opened as a public park in June 1979.

80-foot-tall stone tower.

Missouri has left the sandstone skeleton pretty much to itself, shoring up the walls and buttresses and installing a few cursory signs to warn visitors against bad behavior and provide a brief history. Although not really a castle, the ruins have the crumbling stones and creeping vegetation you expect to see in an example of decayed medieval antiquity. Snatches of conversation overheard at the site suggest that at least some visitors think that the building really is a medieval castle, brought to this remote spot in an act of plutocratic American extravagance (Similar relocations have happened before).

A handy parking lot makes it a quick walk to the ruins and a slightly longer walk to the water tower, also a gutted hulk after morons torched its innards in 1976 (just before the state acquired the land). Those feeling spry can hike a trail with several hundred wooden steps to the inexhaustible spring (48 million gallons a day, according to its sign), following the pipes that fed the water tower.

Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Address:
1491 State Hwy D, Camdenton, MO
Directions:
At Ha Ha Tonka State Park. I-44 exit 150 (Richland). Drive north on Hwy 7 for 32 miles, then north on Hwy 5 for three more miles. Turn west onto US Hwy 54 for 2.5 miles. Just before the bridge turn left onto an unnamed road. Drive a half-mile. Turn right and drive 1.5 miles. You'll see a castle-like rock sign on the right. Turn right and drive a half-mile to the castle.
Hours:
Daily summer 7 am-sunset; winter 8 am-sunset. (Call to verify)
Phone:
573-346-2986
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Bridal CaveBridal Cave, Camdenton, MO - 3 mi.
Swinging Bridges RoadSwinging Bridges Road, Brumley, MO - 15 mi.
Injun Joe and Country Bumpkin: Muffler MenInjun Joe and Country Bumpkin: Muffler Men, Lake Ozark, MO - 17 mi.
In the region:
Temporary Buildings of World War II, Fort Leonard Wood, MO - 39 mi.

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