Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ha Ha Tonka, the castle ruins

 A man by the name of Robert G. Scott was searching for a possible railroad route when he fell in love with an area in the wooded hills near Camdenton, Missouri.  In the early 1890's he returned to Iowa and convinced a partner to purchase a large tract of land and build a large settlement they called "Gunter Springs".  Later, Scott changed the name to a more romantic one:  Ha Ha Tonka, meaning "laughing spirit".  

Snyder and sons

In 1903 a Kansas City businessman named Robert McClure Snyder visited the area and was so enraptured by it that he purchased 2,500 acres, envisioning it as a private retreat for his family.  The purchase included the Ha Ha Tonka settlement and the lake and spring, and made him a huge profit.  In 1880 he moved to Kansas City where he became a successful investor who eventually had assets that included land holdings, real estate, cattle, utilities, oil and natural gas wells, and other investments across the nation.    

When Snyder purchased the property from Scott in 1904, he immediately began to make extensive improvements. Envisioning a European-style castle with a center atrium rising three and one-half stories to a skylight, nine greenhouses, a carriage house, and an 80-foot private water tower, construction on the mansion began in 1905. Utilizing stonemasons from Scotland, they quarried stone and timber from the immediate area, as a European supervisor managed every step of the construction.
The three-and-a-half story masterpiece was designed by Kansas City architect, Adrian Van Brunt, and included a central hallway that rose the entire height of the building, as well as a stone carriage house. Snyder said of the retreat, "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."

However, Ha Ha Tonka was to remain only a dream.  In 1906, he was killed in an automobile accident on Independence Boulevard in Kansas City, one of Missouri's first auto accidents.

His sons continued work on the castle, but the work was slow and the plans not as elaborate as what their father had envisioned.  In 1922 the interior and upper floors were finally completed;  Robert Synder, Jr., lived there during this time.  
By the time the castle was complete, the family businesses were in decline.  By 1937, the depression and court litigations had depleted the family fortune.  The remaining brothers leased the castle to a Mrs. Ellis, who ran the place as a hotel for many years.
In 1942, sparks from one of the many fireplaces in the home ignited the roof, and within hours it was gutted, as well as the nearby carriage house.  
This treasure is now a Missouri State Park, and Cliff and I enjoyed visiting there Friday.

 Cliff is looking toward the Water Tower, the interior of which was set on fire by vandals in 1976.

This is a natural bridge on the property.

Thanks to THIS SITE for the background information on Ha Ha Tonka.


sally said...

Jenni, her husband and I went there some years ago. Loved it walked the trail up to the castle. Awesome view.


I LOVE castles. Such an interesting story behind this one. So sad too. Just crazy about the name and that it means "laughing spirit". Must have been a beautiful hotel. Love all the photos. The natural bridge is gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. Thank you for sharing. Karen