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Ha Ha Tonka castle ruins: the remains of a dead man’s dream.

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With its intriguing history and outstanding geologic features, Ha Ha Tonka State Park features sinkholes, caves, a huge natural bridge, sheer bluffs and Missouri’s 12th-largest spring.
Long before the iconic stone castle was built, the area was home to the Osage, Cherokee, and other Native American tribes. Many early explorers traveled through the area and, when pioneers began to settle here, a man by the name of Robert G. Scott surveyed the property as a possible railroad route in the early 1890s. Though this idea was not feasible, he was taken by the scenic beauty, high bluffs, caves and natural springs and, to give a name to it, he settled upon the Osage Indian phrase “Ha Ha Tonka” literally meaning “Laughing Spirit” in reference to the gushing springs.
Sitting on a bluff, the ruins of a businessman’s mansion overlook these wonders and offer impressive views of the Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka Spring, and appear to belong to a bygone fairytale kingdom.
But they are actually the remains of a dead man’s dream.

This is the story of wealthy Kansas City businessman, such a Robert McClure Snyder, who had a dream to construct a European-styled castle right in his beloved Missouri.
He came from humble beginnings, one of seven children born to John and Sarah (Pence) Snyder in Columbus, Indiana, in 1852. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were millers by trade, owning mills and grocery stores in Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. As a young man, he moved to St. Louis in 1876 and worked in the wholesale grocery business. In 1880, he moved to Kansas City, where he again became involved in the wholesale grocery business, later branching into real estate speculation, banking and utilities.
During his lifetime, his gift for negotiating successful business ventures amassed him a fortune. His assets included landholdings and real estate, oil and natural gas wells, herds of cattle, banking interests, and other investments across the nation.
So he purchased 5,000 acres of land, including his very own lake, and began work on his evocative mansion in 1905, with a center atrium rising three and one-half stories to a skylight, nine greenhouses, a carriage house, and even a private water tower.
He once said: “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.”
The businessman even imported stone masons from Europe to achieve the correct style, but unfortunately he would not live to see his dream house to completion.
It was 1906 when Robert was killed in one of Missouri’s first car accidents.
He was the owner of Snyder Gas Company in Kansas City, and one of the first in Kansas City to own a car. On October 27, 1906, his chauffeur was driving down Independence Avenue with Robert in the back seat, when a small boy ran out in front of the car.
The chauffeur swerved but the boy was hit and died, and Robert was thrown out of the car and died instantly, too.
His obituary in the Kansas City Journal on Oct. 29, 1906, said, “He was a man who understood big things and made them win by keeping up the fight when other men might have been ready to give it up.”
But luckily, his dream castle would not die with him.

After his death, his sons Robert Jr., LeRoy, and Kenneth Snyder continued work on the building and were able to complete the castle by 1920, before the Stock Market Crash.
After completing construction, one of them, Robert Jr., took up residence in the huge mansion, that was used as a summer and weekend home by the Snyder family, who lived in Kansas City, until the family’s money ran out due to land rights lawsuits surrounding the property.
After the younger’s depression and poverty drove him from the house, the building was opened as a hotel and lodge until 1942, when the entire building was utterly destroyed by a fire.

The state purchased the property in the 1970’s, has worked to preserve the crumbled walls as a feature in their state park, and visitors can now explore the bones of the building that brought down the Snyder kingdom.

Images from web – Google Research

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