The “castle,” as it has become known, is situated inside Ha Ha Tonka State Park on State Route D in Camdenton and is one of the most popular state park attractions in the nation.

After years of aging, weather taking its toll, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources State Parks division says a Kansas City engineering company is finalizing plans for restoration of the Ha Ha Tonka castle ruins.  “Restoration,” if it could be called that when talking about stabilizing ruins, might take shape beginning in early 2019 according to several sources at DNR.

The “castle,” as it has become known, is situated inside Ha Ha Tonka State Park on State Route D in Camdenton and is one of the most popular state park attractions in the nation.

Spring 2016 brought the first indication that something was going on with the Ha Ha Tonka ruins. Temporary fencing was erected after storms displaced a few stones from the chimney extension on the east elevation. A followup assessment found the displacement may have been due to natural weathering. Displaced stones were also found at both the southern and northern chimneys on the east elevation at that time. An initial assessment of masonry conditions indicated the ruins were possibly in need of another large scale stabilization project, after last undergoing work in the 1980s.

In 2017, as DNR continued the process of getting studies on the stability of the ruins, a more permanent wooden barrier and hazard sign were erected, warning visitors of an “unstable structure” prohibiting anyone from entering or getting close.

In the Missouri State Parks 2018 budget $150,000 was appropriated for further study.

In a recent public meeting at the park, it appears the study, by Structural Engineering Association of Kansas City, Missouri, is moving things forward. 

According to Ryan King, the park’s Natural Resource Manager, “It’s really early in the process but the result will be simply to stabilize the walls. The addition of steel cross members is one of the more permanent solutions being considered.”  

Parks Division Information Officer Amy Poos clarified, saying, “The study is focused on stabilizing the ruins to prevent them from collapsing in the future. The study contract has not been finalized but the Missouri State Parks has budgeted $1,350,000 for the study and construction of the repairs. The initial study contract is for schematic design. Once a design is complete, Missouri State Parks can go out for bids after July 1, 2019 for construction.”

Poos said The Ha Ha Tonka Project will be underway by October 18, 2018. 

Poos added the Parks division is awaiting approval from the Missouri Office of Administration before going forward.

The history of the castle is both remarkable and sad. Kansas City businessman Robert McClure Snyder began construction in 1905 with the surrounding private estate grounds developed in the years following. Snyder didn’t live to see the building completed as he was killed in a car crash in 1906.  

A spring fed low head dam across the entrance to Ha Ha Tonka Cove was also constructed, creating what was known as Ha Ha Tonka Lake, decades before Bagnell Dam was built. Local fishermen claim the remains of the dam can be seen via fish finders at the entry to the cove.

The European stonemasons imported to provide the correct old world style continued work on the castle, directed by Snyder’s sons.  One of the lads took up residence but a series of legal disputes over property rights drove the younger Snyder out, bankrupted by the court cases.  Ha Ha Tonka was opened as a hotel and lodge but a fire in 1942 destroyed the interior of the structure, leaving only the outer walls.  

What remained stood abandoned for over three decades, except for the occasional Scout Troop visit or happenstance visitor.

The state of Missouri acquired the castle and grounds in 1978 but little was done to shore up what remained.  Some 3,750 acres of land surrounding the castle were also acquired creating a remarkable Missouri attraction, named 4th best in the nation in a USA Today/10 Best State Parks.  

In the 40 years since the state acquired the castle and grounds, more than a dozen new state parks have been acquired, costing many millions of dollars. Ha Ha Tonka stood alone; a rough-cut jewel in the heart of Missouri, seemingly left to chart its own history.

Missouri state parks are free to enter, funded by a 1/10 of 1 percent millage tax, collected as part of the state’s sales tax. The state’s 92 parks comprise over 200,000 acres of land, making the state a showplace for America’s natural environment.  The state is one of only eight states not to charge admission to these natural areas.

The millage tax amounts to $7 per resident of Missouri per year.

Later in October, the park will observe “Castle Days,” celebrating the Snyder Estate at the castle grounds. Saturday afternoon, October 20, the Parks Department will offer crafts for the kids, demonstrations of early life in the Ozarks, and a photo-walk showing the castle, as it was before the fire, pre-1942.  

In addition, historian Jim “Two Crows” Wallen will give his “When the Buffalo Roamed,” program at 4 p.m. on the castle lawn.