LAKE OF THE OZARKS, origin of the name

Sometimes the government doesn't always get its way. Take, for example, the name Lake of the Ozarks. Throughout its design and construction phases, the engineering firm of Stone & Webster, acting on behalf of the dam's owner, Union Electric Light and Power Company, steadfastly referred to the lake project as the Osage Reservoir. One real estate appraisal document, dated November 15, 1930, used the name Lake Osage, but apparently that was the only variation.

When the dam was finished and the lake filled in 1931, this Osage Reservoir was the largest man-made lake in the world. (It would hold that honor for five years.) The Missouri legislature felt that such a world-class project needed a distinguished name. The 1929 General Assembly had passed legislation that would have bestowed the name Lake Benton upon this grand impoundment. The name was meant to be a memorial to Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a statesman from Missouri's early days.

Benton was described in the legislation as Missouri's greatest senator. But the governor vetoed the bill because he objected to such high praise for Senator Benton.

Another session of the General Assembly considered the name Lake McClurg, in honor of a Reconstuction Era governor whose former home happened to be on the very shoreline of the new lake. That name didn't set well with many state legislators who had Confederate ancestors, and the motion never made it out of committee.

And so the legislators dropped the whole matter. By 1932, court records, newspaper accounts, and advertisements all referred to the big lake by its present name. Apparently Union Electric and others, in their efforts to promote the area for real estate development, much preferred the name "Lake of the Ozarks" because it described a place, and not a long-dead politician.

© 2002 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.

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