The Tragic Castle Of Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Having 2 of our granddaughters for the last week has kept us on our toes, finding ways to entertain both an 8 yr old and a 2 yr old.  Todays excursion brought us to an interesting find, Ha Ha Tonka State park.  With the 8 yr old, being a princess, we thought this would excite her to see the ruins of an old stone castle.

Delightful name, isn’t it? Quite a tale it tells indeed. I love that it still stands…the skeletal remains of a dead mans dream.  A haunting sight in the fading light of evening.  I can but imagine the imagery at night…that long wooded walk to reach the bluff, it’s beautiful bones awashed in moonlight and what phantoms wander there.

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Atlasobscura-                                         Sitting on a bluff in the oddly-named Ha Ha Tonka State Park (supposedly translating to “laughing waters”), the ruins of a businessman’s mansion appear to belong to a bygone fairytale kingdom, but are really the remains of a dead man’s dream.

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In 1905, Robert McClure Snyder Sr, a wealthy businessman,  dreamt of building a castle home in the heart of Missouri.  He purchased 3000 acres of land in Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  Snyder even imported stone masons from Europe to insure the stones for the castle were cut correctly from a quarry below where the ruins stand today.

“Here I will spend my leisure, secure from the worries of business and the excitement of city life. I will fish and loaf and explore the caves of these hills, with no fear of intrusion.”

— Robert McClure Snyder about the property he bought to build the Ha Ha Tonka Castle

The construction of the castle was under way in 1906 when Robert was tragically killed in one of Missouri’s first auto accidents but his dream lived on.  His sons, Robert Jr., LeRoy, and Kenneth, continued the work and were able to complete it by 1920.

Robert Jr. moved into the castle.  By 1937, at the time of Robert Snyder, Jr’s death, the depression, and  court litigations in a struggle for land and water control with Union electric had depleted the family fortune and the surviving brothers were forced to take other financial steps with the mansion.  Leasing the building to a woman named Mrs. Ellis; she operated the historic building as a hotel for the next several years.

However, in 1942, tragedy struck the castle again when sparks from one of several fireplaces ignited the roof.  Within hours, the mansion was gutted as well as the nearby carriage house.  All that remained was the skeletal outside walls of the mansion and the nearby water tower.  Again, the mansion was abandoned, sitting silently upon the cliff overlooking Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Lake of the Ozarks for the next 36 years.

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The old carriage house

The state purchased the Castle and grounds in  1978 and has worked to preserve the crumbling walls of Snyder’s dream home.

Today the ruins stand as a stunning landmark in the state park.  Visitors can now explore the bones of the tragic castle that brought down the Snyder kingdom.

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Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Long before Robert Snyder built his stone castle high upon the bluffs of the Ozarks; the area was home to the Osage, Cherokee and other Native American Indian tribes.  Many early explorers traveled through the area including Daniel Boone and his son Nathan, and later, Zebulon Pike passed nearby on his way to explore the West.

Comprising approximately 3,000 acres on the Niangua Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks, the park offers an array of geographic formations, caves, streams, natural bridges and gushing natural springs in addition to the ruins of the Ha Ha Tonka Castle.

15 miles of hiking Trails and boardwalks provide easy access for visitors to experience the park’s many tunnels, caverns, springs, and sinkholes.  More than 400 species of plants have been recorded at the park, with wildflower displays changing throughout the summer.

During our exploration, we also hiked down a mountain path beneath a natural land bridge.

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View from the back of the castle…

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If your journey ever leads you towards this path, please do stop by and enjoy the wonder of one of Missouri’s many treasures, The tragic Castle and Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Always with Love – Laura

51 comments

  1. Laura, I love going there! Well-done writing about our castle and Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Your pictures of the castle are beautiful; but those grandkids–they’re the cutest! Stay safe and blessed! Happy Halloween! 🤍

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. What a great adventure – I adore the photo of the kids walking ahead of you. (All the photos are great, but that one shows how much the kids are getting into it!)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You had me at Ha Ha Tonka … I don’t even care how it translates I just want to go anywhere that is called that. The castle is a sad little tale but I am glad it has been preserved as far as it has been. It really is evocative of a much earlier age. I have this fey notion that buildings have souls and that they sometimes take matters into their own hands. I can’t help thinking that this building contained the dreams of this man who wanted it as a great home not a hotel and that the building simply said enough was enough and caught itself on fire. Your grand-daughters look SO cute on that path, by the way …. hiking like pros!!!!

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    • It was a great day! I love them too. I did get to see castles in Ireland now this local find. I’ll revisit this park and explore more thoroughly this fall when the weather is cooler and the fall colors explode!

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      • Oh my husband and I really want to go to Ireland!!
        Meant to say that I did enjoy reading the history of the castle , even though it was a sad story . I enjoy history.

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      • You must!
        We used Smart tours. We put a down payment then could pay off throughout the year. It was $5000 for both of us for a 2 week, nearly 2000 mile tour aound Ireland, airfare included, 4-5 star hotels, most meals too. We saw Colin Ferrells penthouse. Dolores O’Riordans house ( now, late singer of The Cranberries) Chalie Chaplins home ( now his daughters) stood where the titanic was built, went to Game Of Thrones Winterfel (filmed) at castle Ward, walled gardens, kissed the Blarney stone and toured the poison garden, had a pint in a pub older than my country, CS lewis homes church, where poet WB Yeats buried, signed a peace wall, castles, ancient ruins etc etc etc
        Do it!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, do it, do it, do it! Ireland is a magical land with so much history and so much beauty. I’m a little envious of you getting a peek into Colin Ferrell’s place but I can say that I spent much time in Peter O’Toole’s house in Clifton, Co Galway many moons ago and that I had a house in the very West of Co Cork for some years and I still miss it x

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      • Ah! Our tour guide, Paul Keely, was from Co. Cork. Was able to visit there as well! Peter O’Toole? Fantastic! Oh, I fell in love with Ireland and all the people there. The day we left for home, I cried.

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      • I can fully understand your emotion. Make it your business to return soon … I am sure Ireland missed you just the same as you miss it, the moment you left ☘️.

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