In 1904, a prominent businessman named Robert Mc Clure Snyder bought fifty-four hundred acres and dreamed of building a private retreat that would rival European castles. Snyder first engaged Adrian Van Brunt, one of Kansas City's finest archetects, to head up the team of architects to desin the buildings. After many ideas were passed around, the design of the mansion settled upon was in a modified late English-Renaissance style, used much in Europe. Following Snyder's orders, it would be built using virtually all the construction materials quarried on and cut from the site.
Preparations were made for the start of construction. A complete saw mill was built with planning equiptment and a lumber drying room. The regular building lumber (oak) was cut from timber on the property. Some of the oak trees were cut into very large timbers, 12 x 14's, to be used for emmision joists needed. A pump hose was installed to pump water when needed to the house on the hill, by the lake, and up to the tower. The tower through gravity pressure would furnish water to the garages/stables and the mansion. The stone that was used in the castle, stables, and the water tower was obtained on the property. The stone was quarried one-fourth miles west and one hundred feet below the site selected for the mansion. At the quarry, stonemansons cut the stones to the shape and size desired. The stones were then moved up to the site, first by mules, then by a hoisting engine pulling a cart on tracks. For mortar, limestone was crushed and burned, the sand was ground from two kinds of rocks at the site. Any other construction supplies needed were shipped in by rail to Lebanon, then moved on to Ha Ha Tonka by wagon.
In 1905 construction started on the mansion, stables and tower. Snyder spared no expense and hired an estimated two hundred men in this phase of construction, so it went up rapidly. Local people were hired to handle the specialized trades needed. Stonemansons were brought in from Scotland to shape and lay the stone. The construction superintendant was brought from Europe because of the style of architecture, as well as the gardeners. Hundreds of feet above the lake on the high cliff, the mansion rose. The size was 85 x 115 feet with an ell on the west end.
The main building was three stories high above a full basement. The roof had two gables on each elevation, two dormers on the north side, and one on the east end. Rising above all was four huge stone chimneys, two on the east end and two on the west end. The stonewalls were two feet thick, with large windows on every side.
There were 28 large rooms and many small rooms in the mansion. There were 8 bedrooms on the third floor and 8 on the second floor. Most of the larger rooms had their own fireplaces. The first floor contained a large living room, large dining room, music room, billiards room, sunroom, and a smaller dining room. Every room faced an enclosed central ballroom extending from the first floor to the beamed roof, with skylights at the ceiling. There was large unfinished attics above the third floor on both sides of the central ballroom. Electricity was not available at the time in the area but the mansion was wired for it when it did become available. It was piped for water and gas, seven thousand feet of conduit and piping was installed. There was a large furnace in the basement to provide heat for the whole mansion. Outside of the mansion at the cliff side was a wall that rimmed along the cliff. In this area was a round stone fountain/fish pool structure, leaving a wide walkway around it.
West of the mansion were ten greenhouses, seven of which were 25 x 120 feet and three 20 x 50 feet. These buildings were intended for greenhouses but were never really finished. Boilers for the greenhouses were in place and thousands of panels of glass were there and waiting to be placed in the frames.
East of the mansion about 300 feet was the stables/garage. This was a large building, 45 x 100 feet, and some say it was of even finer stone workmanship than the mansion. This building had a big basement, which was for the vehicles. There was spacious living quarters on the second floor with an entry on the south side.
Past the stables on the highest point in the area, a square watertower, five stories, 80 feet in height, with stonewalls five feet thick at the base, tapering and got thinner toward the top. Counting on the bottom of the bluff where it got water to the top of the tower, it is almost the same height as the Washington Monument (500 feet). Very large water tanks were placed on the top two floors, and plenty of room for living quarters on the lower three floors.
For Snyder, the mansion remained a dream. One of the first car owners in Kansas City, he was killed in an automobile accident in 1906 when his chauffer attempted to miss a child who had ran into the street. The mansion remained unfinished till 1922, when one of Snyder's sons completed the upper floors, and were able to entertain guests on the lower floors from Kansas City and Columbia in the newly finished home.
The mansion was used from family till 1937 when they felt they had no use for it and because of financial reasons, they turned it into a motel. Then on October 21, 1942, sparks from one of the many fireplaces ignited the roof. Within hours, a windswept fire gutted the casle as was the stable. All that was left was the stonewalls of the mansion and stable.
On December 1977, Missouri Department of Natural Resources bought the Ha Ha Tonka property consisting of 2697 acres and turned it into a state park. They immediately started necessary repairs on the standing walls of the castle and stable to make them safe. They opened and dedicated the park to the public in June of 1979. Visited by thousands of people each year, exploring Ha Ha Tonka is most often considered a memorial and personal experience. Trails and boardwalks makes it easy for visitors to experience the tunnels, caverns, springs, and sinkholes. Visitors can peer into caves, trk through and around sinkholes, or climb from the spring to the castle on wooden steps that circle the spring chasm. A visitor center features a large relief map of the park carved from stone.