History of Lake Ozark and Osage Beach

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Lake Ozark

After Bagnell Dam was completed, enterprises moved to the west side of the Dam and re-opened, pioneering tourism. Very few of the original buildings of that generation have survived, although the White House, built in 1932, has been recently renovated.

Glaize Bridge 1932 Osage Beach 

Named for a man-made sand beach on the banks of the Osage River at the foot of a steep hill, Osage Beach was platted in 1928, by real estate developers who sold lots even before the Dam was completed. Two small towns, Zebra, originally on the Osage River and named for the striped appearance of nearby bluffs, and Damsel existed here. Eventually both were incorporated into Osage Beach. The Grand Glaize Bridge was finished before the Dam and was nicknamed The Upside Down Bridge because the framing structure was underneath to offer people an unimpeded view of the Lake.

Willmore Lodge

This historic log building was completed in 1930 for Union Electric, by Stone and Webster Engineering Corp. and designed by Louis La Beaume, a noted St. Louis architect and partner in the architectural firm of La Beaume and Klein. His design was two years in the making and was approved by Union Electric (UE) President Louis A. Egan, whose name the lodge informally bore in its early years. Early documentation refers to the lodge as an administrative and entertainment facility for UE during the first few years of the Great Osage River Project.

The Adirondack styled 6,500 sq.ft. lodge floorplan contained twenty-nine rooms. The building was constructed from Western white pine logs, brought into the area by rail from Pacific Northwestern United States logging companies. Egan forwarded La Beaume’s plans to Oregon and the structure was cut and assembled. 

Only after Egan's personal inspection of the completed building in Oregon, was it then marked, disassembled and transported by train to Missouri. It was finally reassembled at the present site using only square wooden pegs and overlapping corner saddle notchings to hold it together. Stone for the patios and fireplace were hauled from local area quarries. The building was completed in about 3 months at an approximate cost of $135,000.

The Lodge contained all of the modern conveniences of the time. The two story living area and dining room had an oil burning furnace with a 1930 state-of-the-art air cooling machine, a kitchen, servant quarters, a bar with an ice-making machine and an annunciator with call buttons in each room to request service. The five guest rooms had private baths and were named after the towns that were relocated or flooded by the rising waters: Linn Creek, Zebra, Passover, Arnolds Mills and Nonsuch. In 1930, the Dam was still under construction, so the view from the Lodge was only wooded valleys and grassy fields along the narrow little Osage River.

The sprawling dragon shaped Lake of the Ozarks was over a year from being open to the public and as yet to be named. In 1945 UE sold the Lodge, a UE built hotel, pleasure boats, forty thousand acres of lakefront property and eight hundred miles of shoreline to Cyrus Crane Willmore for $320,000. Willmore was one of the more important St. Louis real estate developers, creating much of what is the modern St. Louis landscape. Willmore’s dream was that the newly created lake would soon be a vast vacation land. He knew that the chance to escape the city and still retain many of the city conveniences would appeal to wealthy St. Louisans. The new lake would provide a class of wealthy urban sportsmen a way to recapture a type of pioneer lifestyle through hunting and fishing.

The Egan Lodge served as his primary residence until his death from heart disease just four years later. Although the building remained in his estate and unoccupied from 1949 until 1969, the local residents have, since, always referred to the property and building as the Willmore Lodge. The property was sold in 1969 to Harold Koplar (developer of Lodge of Four Seasons) and again in 1988 to North Port Company (developed what is now Osage National Golf Course). UE re-acquired the building and adjoining property in 1996 in order to insure the Lodge would be retained as a National Historic site and to protect the integrity of the shoreline from the Lodge to Bagnell Dam. The repurchase took place upon the bankruptcy of North Port Company and only amounted to the building and about thirty acres of undeveloped shoreland property. This time, the winning bid price was $1.06 million. During that same year, UE officials proposed that the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce use the building for its offices, develop a visitor center and repository for the Lake’s history. The Chamber would pay for restoration costs and UE would provide the facility and grounds to the Chamber on a long term lease for $10.00 a year.

As the Lodge is preserved as a historic site, it will house the history of its region. Local historical organizations and area residents will join UE to tell the story of the Osage River, the monumental engineering project that became Bagnell Dam, and the development of Lake of the Ozarks.