Ruins of farm and resort, hidden away in national forest, spark curiosity
Deep in the Mark Twain National Forest, just across the line into Douglas County, the ruins of a farm and resort spark curiosity about the lives once lived there. Mainly frequented today by horse riders and the occasional ne’er-do-well, this area is referred to as Hay Hollow by the U.S. Forest Service. However, some remember it as Braddock Lake, a resort owned by Walter and Ruby Braddock, where friends and tourists from near and far came to fish, hunt and relax.
David Mahan, who lives in the South Fork area of Howell County, spent a lot of time there as a kid. “I basically grew up over there; Walter and Ruby were like kinfolk,” he said recently.
Mahan’s family went to the Braddocks’ home every Sunday for a meal. After dinner, often a fish fry, they would play the card game pitch until the news came on at nine o’clock. The Braddocks never had children of their own, but they certainly had a family inthose who visited their resort.
Walter Braddock’s parents, Elmer and Lena, bought the property in 1932. Walter met Ruby, who was 10 years younger, at the Big Spring Church and Schoolhouse upstream from where Twin Bridges is today (at Highways 14 and 181 northeast of Dora). They married in 1941 and lived on the farm with Walter’s parents, working the land and caring for Elmer and Lena as they aged.
Around 1952, the Braddocks decided to build two fishing lakes and open a resort on their property. According to Mahan, Walter originally wanted to use mules to build the two spring-fed lakes, but a friend who had a bulldozer ended up doing it. Apparently it took hiring five different dozer operators before Walter was fully satisfied with the dams. The lakes were stocked with bass, blue gill, crappie and channel catfish. Fishing cost a dollar a day, which included use of a boat; a trolling motor could be added for an extra dollar. “I remember once Walter said he had a great day, having raised $48,” said Mahan. The Braddocks also rented out three cabins to guests. Mahan recalled cabins renting for $10 a night, and a smaller, rougher cabin “a ways up the holler” that rented for either $6 or $8.
In the early days, Ruby and Walter had lived in a house near the dairy barn but then built a house closer to the lakes on the property. The new house had a basement, which Mahan believes may still be visible today.
In his 2002 Ozark folk history book, Searching for Booger County, Douglas County author Sandy Ray Chapin tells the Braddocks’ story based on his interviews with Ruby Braddock. “A fun-loving crowd of deer hunters always packed the resort for hunting season’s opening day. The Braddocks sat around the campfires and listened good-naturedly to hunting yarns,” Chapin wrote.
In addition to deer hunting, Mahan remembers hunting a lot of rabbits at thre resort in the wintertime. Ruby Braddock was reportedly an avid squirrel hunter, and she also trapped bobcats and foxes to sell their furs.
In addition to running the resort, the Braddocks continued to farm their 640-acre property. They milked 25 jersey cows, grew corn and alfalfa along Tabor Creek and made silage for feed. “They milked by hand for years. Walter was so happy when they got those electric milkers,” said Mahan. The first-floor walls of the Braddocks’ large stone dairy barn are still visible along the road bed a little way south and east of the lakes’ site. “Originally, it had a tall, arched roof. Loose hay was brought to the barn in a wagon pulled by a team of mules. A rail with a cable wheel and pulley hung from the upper beam. The hay was lifted into the barn loft and dumped. During the winter, hay was forked down into feeders,” wrote Chapin. A spring-fed water trough and a springhouse also remain. Mahan remembers the Braddocks using the springhouse to keep watermelons and garden vegetables cool. They also irrigated with the spring water, and between plenty of water and an ample supply of manure, they had quite the garden, which Chapin described as “a neighborhood wonder” that usually included “corn, beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, melons, and cabbages.”
The Braddocks lived frugally, but Ruby once told Mahan that in 30 years of owning the place, there were only two years they didn’t have to borrow money. In the late 1960s, when the ranch and resort became too much to maintain, the Braddocks sold it to the U.S. Forest Service for $100,000 and moved to West Plains.
Walter and Ruby have both passed on and are buried in the Howell Memorial Park Cemetery in Pomona. The lakes are also gone, after a torrential rain compromised the dams, but traces of the past remain for anyone interested in searching.
(To be continued.)