Big Spring Historic District Cultural Landscape

Big Spring causes white-tipped movement on the water, surrounded by mossy rocks and fall foliage
Big Spring

NPS / Patty Wheatley-Bishop

The conservation of Big Spring, one of the largest springs in America, and the surrounding 3,966 acre cultural landscape in Ozark National Scenic Riverways continues to support recreational use and public enjoyment. In the 20th century, development of the cultural landscape, now known as Big Springs Historic District, demonstrated the increased national interest in outdoor recreation and conservation.

Much of the work undertaken during the period of significance, from 1924 to 1969, was administered through public work programs. First, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and, later, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) added cabins, fire towers, picnic shelters, pavilions, trails, roads, an Entrance Building and State Park Museum Building. Like other cultural landscapes developed under public work projects, the structures exemplify rustic architecture and use materials including “wood frame timbers and course cut dolomite.” The rustic architecture and naturalistic landscape design sought to subordinate development to the natural features.

Landscape Description

The Big Spring Historic District, located in southeast Missouri, is largely characterized by steep slopes and valleys. The topography is largely defined by the Current River and its floodplain, and Big Spring and Big Spring branch. Mark Twain National Forest borders the site to the west and southwest. An undeveloped area also exists within the district and was originally used as a wildlife game refuge.
Members of a CCCC crew use shovels to dig stone from a quarry beside a pickup truck
CCC quarry workers, date unknown

NPS / OZAR Archives

The contributing structures in the district demonstrate historic integrity by retaining a cluster arrangement and architectural and landscape design. The cabins and entrance building designed by architect Donald A. Blake resemble picturesque Victorian cottages. Blake also designed the majority of WPA additions, including Big Spring Pavilion (1947) and the Peavine Pavilion. The naturalistic landscape designs included stands of planted trees, rustic steps, stone paved paths, and viewsheds of the spring and river. Extensive documentation and continual maintenance allow for the preservation of a majority of built features.

Other contributing features include those directly associated with CCC use. These include the largely non-extant camp ruins, dump, fire/lookout tower, and rock quarries. At the rock quarries CCC workers mined for limestone blocks used in construction.

Historic Use

Following the start of Missouri’s state park program in 1919, Alley Spring, Round Spring, and Big Spring became the first established parks in 1924. At the time, the Big Spring State Park was the largest in Missouri.
Tree in a clearing leans over a slow river, framed by forested hillside.
Big Spring landscape


The state park was intended to contain both a visitor use area and primitive backcountry area for wildlife populations. Soon after acquisition, the state designated the southern portion of the park as a game refuge. However, the state lacked funds to develop the park for recreational use and work to develop the state park did not begin until 1933.

In 1933, Congress passed a law forming the CCC in response to the unemployment crisis. Under the CCC program, John Warren Teasdale and architect Donald A. Blake supervised the landscape design and architecture. CCC Company 1710 began work at Big Springs State Park the same year. Initially, the CCC focused on making improvements related to fire prevention and flood control. They then built several cabins, a comfort station, and Big Spring Lodge for visitor use. CCC work completed in 1938 and WPA workers arrived and completed five frame cabins.
Stone stairs with wooden railing lead to a stone dining lodge with large windows
The Dining Lodge at Big Spring was one of the landscape features built by the CCC.


Development slowed by the end of World War II and concern grew among the community regarding proposals for damming the Current River. In response, the state park board signed on to a plan for federal management of a Current and Jack Fork River corridor. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law establishing Ozark National Scenic Riverways as a unit of the National Park Service (NPS). Negotiations slowed NPS acquisition; federal rules required parks must be donated, not sold. Five years later, in 1969, the Missouri State Park Board transferred ownership of three parks to the NPS. The Big Spring Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Today, visitors can utilize many of the features constructed under federal work programs. As the state intended in first establishing the park, visitors to Big Spring Historic District can hike, picnic, and camp. Rehabilitation on Big Spring Lodge and several cabins is planned for 2021.

Big Spring Picnic Shelter (HS-496)

Historic image of four young women in dresses setting up a picnic at a table near a covered shelter. Historic image of four young women in dresses setting up a picnic at a table near a covered shelter.

Left image
The open-sided Picnic Shelter (HS-496) being used for a picnic (date unknown).
Credit: NPS / OZAR Archives

Right image
Big Spring Picnic Shelter in 2013.
Credit: NPS

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Historic Designed Landscape
  • National Register Significance Level: State
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A, C
  • Period of Significance: 1924-1969

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Last updated: January 23, 2020