Lake Benton

Here’s a little something your chronicler stumbled upon while leafing through an old Journal of the Missouri House.  We thought it might be appropriate to mention on this day after thousands of people spent their last long weekend at Missouri’s biggest vacation venue.

In 1929, when the Lake of the Ozarks was a dream of  Union Electric (for younger readers, that was Ameren before some people developed the field of creating brand names that sound clever but don’t mean much), the Missouri legislature decided the lake that would accumulate behind the dam being built near the village of Bagnell should have a name.  The legislature decided the lake should be named for our second U. S. Senator, Thomas Hart Benton.

But Governor Henry Caulfield, a former member of Congress and a former state appeals court judge, vetoed House Bill 930. There was no override.

I have no objection to the avowed purpose of this bill, that is the designation as Lake Benton, although I personally prefer postponing the naming of the Lake until it shall be constructed, and then perhaps giving it a Sylvan name or an Indian name, or perhaps, the name of the engineer who will build the Dam; but I would not veto the bill on that account.

I do object to that portion of the bill which unnecessarily designates Thomas H. Benton as “Missouri’s greatest U.S. Senator.”  I would not object if he were designated as Missouri’s great Senator or one of Missouri’s greatest Senators. I do not question Thomas H. Benton’s greatness, neither do I assert he is not Missouri’s greatest Senator. I do not, however, believe it proper for the legislature to unnecessarily and without any hearing select one of our former Senators and proclaim him the greatest.  Such a course invites controversy and unnecessarily wounds the feelings and arouses the prejudices of those of our citizens who reverse and love Missouri’s other great Senators. When the legislature convenes again, the construction of the Lake may be at least begun, and if the Legislature still deems it proper to designate the Lake as Lake Benton, I will be glad to join with them provided the objectionable portion of the present bill is omitted.

The legislature took Caulfield up on his offer when it next met in 1931.  One bill was introduced to name the lake for Benton.  Another bill was introduced to call it Lake McClurg, honoring Governor Joseph McClurg (1869-71; governors had two-year terms then), who had had a “Big Store on the Osage” at old Linn Creek, which disappeared under the waters as the Osage River backed up behind the dam.  The present Linn Creek was set up on higher ground by some of the residents of the flooded community.

The House indefinitely postponed consideration of the McClurg bill but on February 12 passed the Lake Benton bill, which stayed in the Senate Committee on public Corporations, Railroads, and Internal Improvements until May 1 when the committee recommended the bill not be passed by the full Senate.   No legislation was introduced in 1933 or afterwards which is why the lake behind Bagnell Dam has the “Sylvan name” Caulfield suggested would be more appropriate.

As far as naming the lake for the engineer who designed the dam:  The dam was designed by the Massachusetts firm of Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation that collapsed in 2000 after a major bribery scandal.

Bagnell Dam is named for the community which, in turn, was named for William Bagnell who moved from St. Louis County to set up a railroad tie business along the Osage. His crews turned trees into railroad ties and then floated them downstream.

Let me know what you think......