Take a Step Back in Time

The Park's Past

Long before county lines were drawn, long before towns were platted, or before fishermen and tourists proclaimed it an ideal trout fishing site, the area around the fourth largest spring in Missouri was a wilderness that provided hunting and fishing for Native Americans. In the mid-19th century, settlers discovered this spring – with a daily flow of 100,000,000 gallons – was an ideal location for development of grist, flour and saw mills. James Brice was one of the earliest settlers, and established the first grist mill here in 1846. Although several mills were built here at different times, none was more successful than the mill owned by Brice’s son-in-law, Peter Bennett. Eventually, Bennett became the namesake for the spring, and later, the park. The spring valley became a popular camping ground for farmers while waiting for their grain to be ground at the Bennett mill. To pass time, campers would fish, hunt and visit with local residents.

By the turn of the century, recreation was gaining in importance. Already a favorite among fishermen, in 1900 the Missouri Fish Commissioner introduced 40,000 mountain trout into the spring and a privately owned fish hatchery was built in 1923. In 1924, the state purchased the spring and part of the surrounding area to create one of the first state parks. The park is now owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Missouri Department of Conservation operates the hatchery.

Stone bridge at Bennett Spring State Park.The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by the federal government in the 1930s, contributed much to the present-day character of the park. Their projects included cabins, shelter houses, roads and trails, and the beautiful arched bridge across the spring branch. The best example of CCC construction in the park is the rustic dining lodge. Noted for its fine food, the dining room features stone walls, beamed ceilings and blacksmith-made iron chandeliers with a trout motif.