Bob Mitchell: Roaring River back in 1928

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Today’s visitors to Roaring River State Park finds quite a different appearance as they drop off the Highway 112 hill coming from Cassville from what they would have back in about 1928. That’s not all this unusual, as few things are exactly the same as they were during that period.

The first thing that would come into view was the lake that existed from about the original park lodge to just above where Dry Hollow joins the main stream out of the spring. This was where the original fishing area existed, where one-time-owners, Brunners’ mortgaged fish resulted in Dr. Sayman, giving the park to the state of Missouri. This reservoir was formed behind a log and earthen structure.

A popular spot

At the head of the lake was a pavilion, accessible by a long wooden walkway that was tricky to navigate under the best of circumstances, but it was what existed in the facility out over the water — slot machines — that provided the attraction. There was an age requirement for entering the facility, but my dad got permission from the concessionaire at the time, Hugh Brixey, to let me view the inside.

If memory serves me well, the machines didn’t last long, and there could have been a couple of reasons why. Fact was, I never did see the one-armed-bandits make a payoff. To my knowledge, this was the last existence of the machines in the county.

This isn’t meant to infer that gambling didn’t exist in later years in the park. Youngsters once visited the cabin units the night before opening — peeking under blinds to see who was involved in poker or dice games throughout the park. Law enforcement changes marked the end of the machines.

And there was a washout of the dam in a torrent of water down Roaring River hollow, which took out everything streamside in the upper regions of the park. This was one of those “toad stranglers” that visited the area, giving Cassville one of her most severe washouts.

Cars downstream

My dad was working for Blalack Chevrolet at that time as was Orville Abernathy, the leading wrecker operator of the time. When waters went down, autos missing were discovered below a low water bridge midway in the park, rolled virtually into a ball in a hole of water downstream from the bridge.

Several personnel from the auto agency were gathered-up and transported to the park to assist with recovery of some five or six vehicles that had been below the dam for some reason or another in the washout.

Abernathy was assisted by several young people who could handle themselves in the water by connecting wrecker lines to the vehicles for winching out of the stream.

Washout of the dam left the stream as it is today, after baffles were later added to create fishing pools as we know them today. Although those facilities across the stream today aren’t the original ones, those were replaced not too long ago.

Bass Lake came along

In later years, the need for another lake — this time in the lower area of the park, in front of the Group Camp — provided John Boat rentals and some Paddle Boats.

A swimming dock or two was used extensively for those who could stand the cold water. These were also popular locations for chivaree activities, such as dunking newlyweds in the chilly waters — an initiation popular in those days.

Sediment washing into the lake filled the reservoir and the need for more trout steam and camper area resulted in removal of the earthen and rock dam in later years.

Politics were a factor

Thinking of the Brixeys, who were longtime concessionaires at the park, brings to mind how those park managers were formerly chosen. It was strictly a political patronage situation, making it a necessity to be in good favor with the governor.

For decades, our governors were Democrats, resulting in a string of operators being the party faithful. In more modern times, and with some changes in operations in the park system, a bid system was initiated based on the amount an operator would return to state government or the park system.

Interesting changes

When the change of operators came about, it was always interesting to watch how smoothly the transition might move.

Concessionaires are responsible for providing every bed sheet, pillow, cup and saucer, frying pan, etc., involved in serving the public. If an outgoing operator wanted to be difficult, they could set on their price of transfer a few times, resulting in a newcomer having to purchase new supplies. Fortunately, this didn’t occur often, but it was known to have happened.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.

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