The History of Dogpatch

The Lake of the Ozarks story began in 1931 when the floodgates of Bagnell Dam first cut off the Osage River. During dam construction, the area that would become the Bagnell Dam Strip was largely empty. Temporary towns or “tent cities” to house the thousands of construction workers for the project were built at the foot of the dam. Businesses opened to provide places to eat and to buy clothes and groceries. When the dam was complete, the need for the towns disappeared, but some business people moved to the west end thus beginning Lake Ozark and the Strip.

Bagnell Dam in 1931
Bagnell Dam in 1931

Walt Tietmeyer
Walt Tietmeyer

Sixteen years later in 1947 Walt Tietmeyer came to the lake after WWII. Starting with nothing, he created the original Dogpatch, which began as a gas station and tourist stop. It had a restaurant and sold Ozarks souvenirs to the travelers, most of whom were just discovering the area.When Dogpatch first opened, the Lake was a common honeymoon destination for people in post-WWII Missouri. It was close to home and relatively inexpensive. Lake of the Ozarks quickly earned the moniker “Playground of the Middle West.”

The store’s popularity grew along with the lake’s. The area was booming, and the honeymooners often returned with their kids for family vacations. “We are now in the fourth generation,” says Mike Page, Dogpatch’s current owner. Through these years a visit to Dogpatch became an integral part of the experience.The store bears the name of a fictional town in Al Capp’s comic about Appalachian hillbilly Li’l Abner, and over the years Tietmeyer developed the shop into an area themed around the mythical Ozark mountain pioneer lifestyle.

Dogpatch in the 1940s
Dogpatch in the 1940s

Lake Travelers in Model T
Lake Travelers in a Model T

The store took much of its inspiration from Ozarks culture in the days before the dam. Some of the attractions included piano playing chickens, talking outhouses, a snake pit and even a lion at one point. Figures and mannequins decorated in backwoods outfits depicted rustic scenes, while stuffed wild animals were set in front of forest backdrops. However, any reference to Li’l Abner or Daisy Mae was squelched by Capp’s legal team. No license was available to Tietmeyer. Despite this small hurdle, by the ’50s and ’60s the store had become a well known tourist attraction with thousands of visitors annually.

Today the store is a symbol for the area. The bright orange sign and series of colorful flags invite visitors in from the sidewalk. The moment they push past the glass doors they’re inundated by the sights and sounds. A tinkling player piano clangs a cheery tune while a rainbow of souvenirs and curious displays unfolds before them. A few steps farther and they are greeted by Grandpa’s welcoming “howdy.” The people who have explored the Strip know Dogpatch is a Lake of the Ozarks tradition. It is the longest continually operated store at the Lake. It’s a place where parents whose own mom and pop brought them here during their childhood are now bringing their kids.

Display featuring the hillbilly lifestyle
Display featuring the hillbilly lifestyle