The 1929 construction project of the Bagnell Dam was a massive undertaking employing thousands during the Depression

CJ Coombs

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Aerial Photograph of Bagnell Dam, Lake of the Ozarks-Osage River, Missouri.KTrimble at English Wikipedia, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The aerial view above shows you how extensive the Bagnell Dam is. I haven't been to the dam in years, but I have had one memorable experience there.

When my family first moved to Kansas City, my dad told us we were going for a ride. It was a Saturday. As it turned out, we drove to the dam. Longest weekend drive. I remember going into a shop that sold freshly made fudge. For years after that, I always wondered why we went for such a long drive to buy fudge.

My dad, being a history buff, probably wanted to see the dam. Today, I treasure that memory. Although the family drive was long, the fudge was good.

The dam impounds an estimated 600 billion gallons of water, which compose the Lake of the Ozarks, and was built in between 1929 and 1931. (Source.)

The Bagnell Dam (aka Osage Dam) creates the Lake of the Ozarks by impounding the Osage River in Missouri. Near the Camden-Miller County line, the dam is located in Lakeside, Miller County. At its Osage Powerplant, Union Electric Company (now Ameren) built the 148-foot-tall concrete gravity dam to generate hydroelectric power. The facility's eight generators can produce 215 megawatts of power. The dam serves 42,000 homes.

Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, covering 86 square miles in four counties. (Source.)

Bagnell Dam Boulevard connects the nearby Bagnell Dam Strip with Lakeland and US 54 via the dam. Bagnell Dam was named after William Bagnell, who platted the town of Bagnell, Missouri, nearby in 1883.

Brief history

The dam was built from 1929 to 1931. This created the Lake of the Ozarks.

In 1912, a Kansas City developer, Ralph W. Street, came up with the idea of a power plant on the Osage River to generate electricity. In 1924, Street and Walter Cravens, also in Kansas City, organized funding and formed the Missouri Hydro-Electric Power Company. Roads and railroads were built and necessary support structures before the dam began. In 1926, funding was exhausted and the concept of the hydroelectric power plant was abandoned.

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Bagnell Dam.KOMUnews, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1929, previously known as Union Electric Company of St. Louis, and now Ameren, bought the facilities. Thereafter, the construction was resumed. Even though the stock market crashed shortly after that and including the Depression, working on the project moved forward.

It became the only major construction project in the nation at the time, attracting thousands of workers from all over the country. (Source.)

With the effects of the Depression, the construction of this large project provided needed employment that helped to boost the economy in the rural area. In less than two years, the dam was completed and the large man-made Lake of the Ozarks followed.

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Construction image of the dam, 1930.Public domain, Library of Congress.

In 1930, the Union Electric Administration Building-Lakeside was built. This building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 with an increased boundary of the property in 2011. This building has also been known as the Willmore Lodge.

Engineers proudly predicted the amount of electricity the Osage Power Plant would generate in future years, but no one dreamed of the millions of hours of recreation, the Lake of the Ozarks would provide for tourists, local residents and second homeowners. (Source.)
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Bagnell Dam after completion, 1931.Public domain, Library of Congress.

In 2017 and 2018, $53 million was invested by Ameren Missouri towards upgrades to the dam. This included more than 66 million lbs. of new concrete for the purpose of weighing down the dam and securing it into the bedrock.

From early September 2021 to late April 2022, the bridge went through a rehabilitation project. In May 2022, according to Lake Expo, the project timeline was extended because the bridge was in worse condition than expected. Also, by the time it was completed, a weight limit of 18 tons was put in place.

The Bagnell Dam reopened after eight months of construction.

Thanks for reading!

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO
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