river in winter) and a bathhouse where bathers could change clothes. The island had its own school and church as well.
Advertisements promised “good country food, fried chicken and old country ham. Nice cool porches and delightfully cool rooms with always a breeze from the lake, where the blue grass slopes to the water’s edge, where we have boats and a launch and worlds of fish waiting to be caught.”
To accommodate the seasonal migration from Kansas City, the Missouri Pacific Railroad maintained a stop at its crossing with the road to White’s Island. There, visitors boarded horsedrawn wagons for the final leg of the trip.
Photos from around the turn of the 20th century show patrons of the resort in starched white shirts and dresses, wearing ties and jewelry. In those days, a vacation was no reason to let yourself go.
The resort’s glory days were brief. The same year they built the hotel, the Whites threw up an earthen dam across the slough to create a wagon crossing to the island. This must have vexed riverboat captains, who routinely used the side channel during high water to shorten the 8-mile traverse of Cranberry Bend. Ultimately, it also contributed to the resort’s demise.
The dam, along with later river channelization, excluded seasonal flows that had periodically flushed silt down the slough and out into the river. By the time fire destroyed the old hotel building in 1954, the “lake” was a mucky shadow of its former self, and the surrounding land had accumulated enough soil to be converted into cropland. Today, you have to look hard to find any trace of evidence that the area was ever an island.
As the resort’s fortunes ebbed, so did sporting life in the Grand Pass and Dalton Cutoff area. Levees and drainage projects dried out most of the wetlands that once dominated the landscape, and the legendary hunting and fishing dwindled.
People began to notice the loss of wildlife just as the Whites’ resort fell on hard times. It is not merely coincidence that Missourians voted to create the Conservation Department in 1936. A few years later, the agency began creating conservation areas to preserve or restore historic wetlands. Today Missourians once again can experience the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese funneling into Saline County’s Missouri River bottomlands. This modern-day “resort” is the 5,000-acre Grand Pass Conservation Area,