Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins | Camden County, Missouri
Construction of the Ha Ha Tonka castle was started in 1905 by Robert McClure Snyder, Sr., a Kansas City businessman who purchased the large property after first visiting there in 1903. Alluding to the natural springs on the property, "ha ha tonka" was said to mean "big laugh" or "smiling waters.”
Robert McClure Snyder 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, Snyder 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. In 1904, he purchased Ha Ha Tonka Lake and Spring in Camden County and immediately began constructing roads and making extensive improvements. 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."
During Snyder's 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. 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."
He maintained ideals for which he was recognized, never failing to accentuate the importance of family values. In a personal message to his son Robert Jr., he encouraged him to "lay down for yourself principles of truth, of honor, of self-respect and of unselfishness - and do not violate them - thus will your life be a success and a pleasure to you and everyone who knows or meets you." It was said that Snyder's business dealings were honorable and his name was synonymous with commercial integrity. His tragic death, one of the first automobile fatalities in Missouri, brought an end to the rise of a powerful businessman and his legacy.
Following Snyder's death in an auto accident in 1906, the castle was completed by his sons Robert, Jr., LeRoy, and Kenneth Snyder in the early 1920s before the Stock Market Crash. The building was used as a summer and weekend home by the Snyder family, who lived in Kansas City. In the late 1930s, it was used as a hotel; however, it was destroyed by fire in 1942.
The state purchased the castle and grounds in 1978, adapting them for use as a state park and opening them to the public. The water tower was repaired in 2004, with a new roof installed. Although the castle walls were stabilized in the 1980s, a new survey in 2016 determined that portions of the ruins including its arches were seeing mortar and stone failure with the potential beginning of the collapse. Some areas have been closed off from the public. The ruins can be seen from an observation point across from the park office.