When Sandy White moved from Virginia to Saline County, Mo, in the late 1800s, he bought half a section of land on a 2,000-acre island along the south bank of the Missouri River. His domain just north of the town of Grand Pass encompassed bottomland hardwood forest, river frontage and one of the river’s many side channels, or sloughs.
White sold groceries and other necessities to the island’s residents. A few years later, he set up a sawmill to turn the area’s abundant timber into another saleable commodity. With the money from these enterprises, he bought up land at every opportunity.
In the summer, when the river’s flow slackened, the slough became a placid lake bordered by sandy beaches chock-full of fish. In the fall, the vast wetland complex around the confluence of the Missouri, Grand and Chariton rivers attracted countless ducks and geese, creating a hunter’s paradise. The Missouri River bottoms produced an astonishing abundance of wild delicacies for commercial markets in Kansas City. One shipment from the Grand Pass area contained 500 pounds of frogs alone.
Like his father, Stonewall Jackson White had a head for business, and he was quick to see mercantile possibilities in the natural amenities on what by then was known as White’s Island. Using cottonwood lumber from the family mill, Stonewall built a hotel on the island. By 1902, he and his brother Hugh were placing advertisements in Kansas City newspapers for the White’s Island Fishing and Summer Resort. Their timing could hardly have been worse—or better.
A flood destroyed the hotel in 1903, but they had the long, low, 14-room facility rebuilt within a year, demonstrating the White brothers’ tenacity and their insouciance toward floods. The tide of history was on their side. Growing urbanization during the progressive era created nostalgia for rustic recreation, and the newfound leisure of America’s middle class fueled demand for outdoor clubs and commercial resorts. Throughout the early years of the 20th century, visitors flocked to White’s Island to fish, swim, hunt and generally rusticate.
The setting had changed but little from what Lewis and Clark saw on their passage through the area 100 years earlier, although the Whites had added a few amenities. At its zenith, in addition to the hotel and swimming beach, the resort boasted three rental cabins, a combination pool hall, skating rink and bowling alley, an icehouse (filled with ice cut from the