JEFFERSON CITY’S HOPES FOR BAGNELL DAM IN 1931©
By Dwight Weaver
As the construction of Bagnell Dam neared completion in the spring of 1931, the New York Times newspaper referred to the project as the “Miracle of the Ozarks.” This praise did not go unnoticed by media in Jefferson City. The editor of the Daily Capital News and Jefferson City Post Tribune turned to state and city officials for their take on how the construction of the Dam and the creation of Lake of the Ozarks might benefit the Capital City of Missouri.
“The people of Jefferson City have taken a conservative view of the effect the Bagnell Dam will have on this community. It has created no speculative flurry such as other places have experienced in the wake of great new enterprises . . .” said Hugh Stephens who was President of the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce in 1931.
Stevens seemed hesitant about venturing too much speculation on the subject but did suggest that a “miracle” had occurred “almost at the back door of the city” because the Dam had created the “largest artificial lake in the world” in Miller and Camden counties. “It can be assumed without risk that the Bagnell Dam will affect Jefferson City in many definite and important ways” he said.
C.O. Hanes, Secretary of the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce was less reserved. “Jefferson City, being the nearest large city to this great development can expect to become the chief beneficiary, especially due to the fact that a major portion of the tourists and visitors will pass through the city,” Hanes said. “All of the commercial and recreational benefits to be derived by this area will contribute to the expansion and growth of the Capital City.”
Every piece of promotional literature produced by the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce during the Dam’s construction period referred to the project. In 1930 the Chamber distributed more than 32,000 such circulars and booklets.
During the construction period Hanes noted that the merchants and professional men of the City received a part of the large construction pay-roll. He noted that the Dam and Lake would be an additional incentive for people to visit the Capital City; he expected the area to see improved highways due to increased travel since most visitors to the Lake would pass through Jefferson City on U. S. Highway 54 and the increased travel would mean greater profits from bridge tolls. The Missouri River bridge at Jefferson City, which carried Highway 54, was a toll bridge and there was strong public sentiment to see it become a “free” bridge. He expected the Lake to increase the length of the tourist season and give industries wanting to locate in the Midwest incentive to locate near Jefferson City because the Dam was a hydroelectric facility and would prove to be a good source for power.
N.R. Beagle, head of the Missouri Power and Light Company in Jefferson City, who compared the new Lake to a “dragon” in its shape, hoped that high-tension lines between the Dam and Jefferson City would eventually be feasible as industries in Jefferson City were expanding and continuing to demand additional power.
James Houchin, a business man in Jefferson City, noted that during the project the city’s hotels had been filled with businessmen and visitors on their way to see the new Dam and Lake. “All lines of business will profit . . . Merchants, hotels and garages will find many extra dollars in their tills and every dollar spent in the community helps every interest in the city . . . From the north, east and west we are the natural gateway . . .”
Townsend Godsey, Director of Public Information for the Missouri Game and Fish Department said “The Lake of the Ozarks promises to become one of the outstanding fishing places in the country. The water is available and conditions appear to provide excellent breeding grounds for the bass, crappie, sunfish, jack salmon, channel catfish, catfish and drum . . .”
Henry C. Asel, mayor of Jefferson City in 1931, called the project “another milestone in the growth and advancement of Jefferson City.” He compared the project to the building of the new Capitol building and the construction of the Missouri Pacific railroad into the City. “The people of Jefferson City are happy to be the key-city to this important new development in this section of Missouri,” Asel said.
And so, while Eldon, Barnett, Versailles, Camdenton and Linn Creek began to promote themselves as “gateways” to the Lake of the Ozarks, the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce began promoting itself as the “Northern Gateway to the Ozarks” and the “Key City of Central Missouri.”
Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks gave Jefferson City something new to promote by way of U.S. Highway 54. Heretofore Bennett Springs in Laclede County and Ha Ha Tonka in Camden County had been about the only Ozark attractions reasonably close to the city to give tourists and vacationists an incentive to pass through Jefferson City. “The center of interest in the Ozarks has been moved over 100 miles north by this great recreational lake which has become the chief feature of that region,” said Huge Stephens.
(Illustration: Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce ad in the 1932 edition of Where To Go In The Ozarks by Keith McCanse.)