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Jul15

The ruins of a dream: Ha Ha Tonka’s castle

By Tom Uhlenbrock

Fire played a role in creating another of Ha Ha Tonka’s attractions, the ruins of Robert Snyder’s mansion. In the early 1900s, the wealthy Kansas City businessman purchased 5,000 acres that included a spring-fed lake.

He selected a site on the rocky summit above for his retirement home, saying, “I will fish and loaf and explore the caves of these hills, with no fear of intrusion.”

But just as imported Scottish stone masons began work on his dream, Snyder died in 1906 in one of the state’s first automobile fatalities. His sons finished the home, but it was gutted by fire in 1942. The carriage house burned the same day and, in 1976, the water tower was burned by vandals.

The roof has been repaired on the tower, and the rock walls of the castle have been stabilized to preserve the artistry of the masons. The stone skeleton of Snyder’s European-style castle sits like a rock sculpture, with a sweeping view of the Lake of the Ozarks far below.

The area was proposed as Missouri’s first state park in 1909, but did not join the park system until 1978.

While most visitors start their tour of the park at the castle ruins, the park features a series of boardwalks and trails, most of them less than two miles long, that show off the woodlands and glades.

The trails also lead to another of the park’s attributes, the honeycomb of tunnels, caverns, springs and sinkholes created by its porous karst geology.