BACK IN THE DAY – A vintage photo shows the dining lodge at Camp Pin Oak before it was destroyed by fire. Tom Uhlenbrock/Missouri State Parks.
by Tom Uhlenbrock
Missouri State Parks
Destroyed by fire, the stone-and-timber Camp Pin Oak Lodge at Lake of the Ozarks State Park has been rebuilt with the same craftsmanship displayed by its original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew in the 1930s.
The workers on the project are students participating in an innovative partnership with State Fair Community college, trading their labor for construction experience and college credit hours.
“A lot of it is exactly the same,” said Bill Arnold, natural resource manager of the park about the work on the new lodge. “They were very meticulous, very sensitive to its history.”
Pin Oak is one of five existing group camps built by the CCC at the park. All of Camp Pin Oak, with its collection of handsome rustic buildings, has been designated a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Situated high on a peninsula with the lake on three sides, the dining lodge was the centerpiece with sleeper cabins spaced along the shoreline. Camp Pin Oak became known as the Girl Scout Camp because of the scores of scouts who spent summers there.
On the night of Sept. 3, 2010, a noisy thunderstorm battered the lake area. The lodge caught fire, possibly from a lightning strike. Arnold arrived at the scene at 5 that morning.
“It was still burning,” he said. “There wasn’t much left, only the two chimneys. The rest of it was down. It was gone.”
Gov. Jay Nixon, a strong supporter of state parks, visited the site the next week and vowed to see the lodge rebuilt. The governor’s wife, Georganne, spent summers at Camp Pin Oak as a young scout.
“The beauty of Camp Pin Oak, with its stone buildings, rustic architecture and sturdy craftsmanship, makes it a one-of-a-kind place,” the governor said in remarks prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuilding project in September of 2011.
“When the historic dining lodge burned last year, Camp Pin Oak lost a piece of its past,” Nixon said. “Today, we’re proud to announce that it won’t have to lose a piece of its future.”
The resurrected dining lodge will be completed this spring. Arnold said he was surprise at how quickly the project was able to begin when considering economic factors.
“The economy was kind of rough at the time it burned,” Arnold said. “Every department and division was struggling for finances. If I had to guess, I would have said it would be later rather than sooner on getting the dining lodge re-built.”
“The governor and his staff pulled it all together. They figured out how to get grant money, and partner with State Fair Community College to bring this project to life.”
Attuned to History
Students came from State Fair Community College, which is headquartered in Sedalia and has campuses in six other locations in central and western Missouri, including Osage Beach. Staff with the Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks planning and development program designed the building and assisted in finishing the project.
Keith Haulotte, the college’s lead instructor on the project, said 13 students worked full time at the park, and were joined at times by several others. Faculty from the college’s construction technology program who specialized in welding, masonry and concrete, plumbing, electrical and carpentry also were working instructors at the site.
The full-time students earned more than 60 college credit hours on the project, enough for nearly two degrees in fields like construction management and computer-aided drafting.
“They really did enjoy it’.” Haulotte said. “We’d get out photos of the old lodge. They were very attuned to it looking historically correct. The most important thing, they got the best construction management experience ever, running this project from start to finish.”
The student workers got free tuition and books while they completed their degrees, and now are working on paid internships with the state of Missouri as the project nears completion.
“In order to stay, they had to apply for another degree,” Haulotte said. “Every one of them has wanted to stay.”
Stone by Stone
On a tour of the rebuilt lodge, Arnold, the park manager, pointed out the precise stonework of the two chimneys, and the difficulty of determining where the old stone work stopped and the new began. The chimneys stand at either end of the 135-seat dining room.
“The fire got so hot it actually damaged the stone,” Arnold said. “They took them down and built them back as close as they could to the originals. They had a blown-up photograph and actually worked to match it, stone by stone.”
The grant required that 80 percent of the new building be on the same footprint as the old structure. Only the kitchen was enlarged, and an outdoor patio was added.
Beams and other wood used in the rebuilding came from Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park near St. Louis, where Missouri State Park workers salvaged trees blown down by a wind storm. They were cut into timbers and brought to Lake of the Ozarks State Park.
The lumber also was used to replace benches and tables that were in the lodge, and destroyed in the fire. The work was completed by staff in the park’s shop.
“This is one of the originals,” Arnold said of an old bench constructed like those lost in the fire at Pin Oak that was used as a model for the new ones. “I think ours are better.”
In another section of the shop building, newly made iron chandeliers decorated with metal oak leaves waited to be wired and hung. “The CCC oak leaves were made of copper,” Arnold said. “A fabricator used one of the original oak leaves salvaged from the fire as a pattern for the new chandeliers.”
The original building had a cedar shake roof; the new one has a roof that looks like cedar shake, but is made of a synthetic material with a 50-year warranty. The kitchen is updated with modern amenities, and the rebuilt lodge has heating and air conditioning for the first time.
“That will allow us to have a longer season, if not year-round,” Arnold said. “I think you’ll see more use in the shoulder seasons, early spring and late fall. It’ll come back as a group camp, but it will be great for weddings, family reunions or business retreats.”
“If it hadn’t been for Gov. Nixon,” Arnold said, “it would have been a lot longer for the lodge to have been raised from the ashes.”
For more information, visit mostateparks.com.