City Spotlight: Lake of the Ozarks

[Photo Credit: H. Dwight Weaver, from his book: Lake of the Ozarks: Vintage Vacation Paradise, pg. 6]

With the release of Netflix’s newest gripping thriller, Ozark, we thought it would be fun to showcase the lake on which the show’s residents live and work, the Lake of the Ozarks and the surrounding area, as this week’s city spotlight.

Brief History

For those unfamiliar, the Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, located in south-central Missouri. It boasts a shoreline of 1,150 miles, much more than California’s 840 miles. The lake has a surface area of 54,000 acres, with a max depth of 130 feet. Construction on the lake began in August 1929, and was completed nearly two years later, in May 1931. Though it was originally built to provide hydroelectric power, it quickly became a premiere vacation destination for the Midwest. Over 70,000 homes now exist along the lake, many of which are vacation homes. In fact, more than 5 million people visit the lake each year!

The lake and surrounding area offer a number of activities for visitors to enjoy including camping, rock climbing, swimming, boating, hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, biking, caverns to explore, and more! There are also several options for waterfront dining and lodging. With so many ways to enjoy a vacation on the lake, who’s ready to book their visit?

Before we get into all the lake has to offer today, let’s take a look back at some historic images of the Lake of the Ozarks.

The Lake of the Ozarks: Historic Images

[The following 4 images are courtesy of H. Dwight Weaver, from his book: Lake of the Ozarks: Vintage Vacation Paradise]

The Rock Island Depot, shown above, was built in 1904 and once served as the hub of Eldon’s agricultural and freight industries. This is just one of many historic buildings no longer in existence near the lake. [Pg. 10]

A sight you would be hard-pressed to see today, a group of visitors at the former “Tom’s Monkey Jungle”  hold various animals. According to author and historian H. Dwight Weaver, “One of the activities children enjoyed at the attraction was watching monkeys race in miniature automobiles.” [Pg. 13]

In operation from 1936 to 1946, Musser’s Ozark resort was once one of the most “impressive roadside attractions and lodging places” near the lake. The site is now a truck stop and chain restaurant. [Pg. 18]

Show above is Edmond’s Theater, which could seat 150 people. Located in the town of Damsite, about a mile downstream from the Bagnell Dam, this theater, along with the rest of the town, vanished after construction was completed in 1931. [Pg. 31]

Ready to visit the Lake of the Ozarks? Here’s some helpful tips for planning your visit…

Top 5 Places to Eat
-   Shorty Pants Lounge - Waterfront spot with a casual Cajun/bar-food menu, live music & plenty of outdoor seating. 

-   Dog Days Bar & Grill - Seasonal lakefront watering hole with an expansive deck, with drinks, pub eats, live music & events. 

-   Tuckers Shuckers Oysters & Tap - Bustling watering hole serving comfort fare & oysters, plus tap beers, flat-screen TVs & a patio.

-   Redhead Lakeside Grill and Yacht Club – Waterfront dining featuring a diverse menu, along with a gas dock and marina. 

-   Paradise Tropical Restaurant and Bar - Bar & eatery for bites, burgers, mains & drinks in a festive lakefront setting with outdoor seats.

Top 5 Things to Do

-Get Air Osage Beach – family trampoline park

-Lake Escape – an escape room adventure that’s fun for the whole family

-Super Daves Paddle Craft Adventures – rents a variety of watercraft including stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and pedal boats

-Shawnee Bluff Winery – offers wine by the bottle or glass, wine tastings, Italian fare, and a 14-mile panoramic view of the lake

-Ozarks Amphitheater – open seasonally, providing evening entertainment by world class acts

Fun Facts

-   The lake’s serpentine shape has earned it the nickname “The Magic Dragon”, which in turned inspired the names of local institutions, such as The Magic Dragon Street Meet

-   During construction the lake was referred to as “Osage Reservoir” or “Lake Osage.” It was officially named “Lake Benton” by the Missouri General Assembly, but its most popular name is due to its location in the Ozarks.

-   An underwater ghost town lies beneath the lake’s surface, at mile marker 31 in Linn Creek Cove

-   The Lake contains over 640 billion gallons of water.

While this is just a brief look at all that the lake has to offer, both historically and today, you may wish to learn more about the history of the Lake of the Ozarks and enjoy more vintage images of the area. Consider the following additional resources:

Lake of the Ozarks: The Early Years


Lake of the Ozarks: Vintage Vacation Paradise‚Äč

An Ozark Culinary History: Northwest Arkansas Traditions from Corn Dodgers to Squirrel Meatloaf

All Ozark Titles