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Any discussion of Laclede County, Missouri would not be complete without at least mentioning Bennett’s Spring. This popular trout fishing spot has been a part of Laclede County’s history for generations. Located on the line between Dallas and Laclede Counties, Bennett’s Spring, now a state park, is only 12 miles from Lebanon.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources: “Bennett Spring and its valley have attracted visitors since the mid-19th century. Settlers found the spring-fed streams to be ideal locations for their grist and flour mills, and the wilderness around the stream was perfect for hunting. James Brice was one of the first settlers in the area, and he built his first mill in 1846. Although several other mills were built at different times, the most successful mill was operated by Peter Bennett, Brice’s son-in-law. Bennett became the namesake for the spring, and the spring valley became a popular hunting and camping ground for farmers waiting for their grain to be ground at the mill.“
I sat down with my father, John Angst, a local pastor, and life-long Laclede County resident. I asked him what he knew about Bennett’s Spring. He described how the area became so popular in the 19th century.
“People would come there and and bring their wagon loads of corn or whatever they needed ground and they would a lot of times have to stay overnight waiting in line with their wagon because they would be 50 wagons there. All the families around wanted to get their corn ground and they all got ripe at the same time. And so they just made kind of a thing out of it. You know it was so much easier to have the meal ground commercially than it was to try to do it. You know, if you had a hundred bushels of corn it would take you weeks to do it by hand plus it didn’t do as good a job. And so they would just go and take their corn and you know their kids if they were old enough to you know, stay with them and they can’t out make it a week of it or whatever. Sometimes they were two or three days down there. They can fish and swim, you know, and and just have a good old time harvesting basically getting their meal ground. So it was a popular place because of that.
The [Niangua] river, there just weren’t very many bridges across it. And so then at the Spring they had some kind of a bridge over the river very early. And it was a popular place to cross right there. So, being able to get people from Dallas County and Laclede County both, you know was probably a lot of the reason that that was so popular. Plus it was a fun place to go. You know, it’s a good place to fish at the Spring Branch there.”
In 1869, newspapers in Buffalo and Bolivar were extolling the virtues of this impressive area.
In 1886, just a couple of months after Peter Bennet passed away, a state agent was reported as stocking the spring with trout minnows.
In 1900, 40,000 mountain trout were deposited in Bennett’s Spring by the state fish commissioner
In his 1909 novel, The Calling of Dan Matthews, Harold Bell Wright describes Bennett’s Spring, calling it “Gordon’s Mill”. The novel is set in the fictional town of Corinth, modeled after Lebanon.
By 1915, newspapers as far away as St. Louis, Kansas City, and even Kansas and Nebraska were mentioning this beautiful destination. Even in the early 20th century, visitors were coming from as far away as California.
In early 1925, the state of Missouri purchased the Bennett farm and spring for $40,000. Bennett’s Spring became one of the first Missouri state parks.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps had a camp at Bennett Spring. According to the park’s website, the CCC “contributed much of the present-day character of the park, building cabins, a shelter house, roads, trails, the arched bridge across the spring branch, and the rustic dining lodge.”
Today the park attracts visitors from all over the world. Fly fishermen line the stream on opening day and it is a sight to behold. You would be shocked at how closely people can stand together and still fish.
Local Author Laura Valenti has written a series of novels centered around Bennett. The first in the series is titled, The Heart of the Spring. These historical novels explore the history of Bennett’s Spring and interweave tales of family and romance.
I grew up in Laclede County and I remember going to Bennett’s Spring a lot in my youth. We would fish in the stream, feed the fish at the hatchery, swim in the pool, and walk the trails. The nature center was always a favorite spot to visit. Our family has held a reunion at the park several times, as well. My parents took me to the park and I took my kids to the park. I hope one day my future grandchildren will also get to experience the beauty of Bennett’s Spring.