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Our History

Washington State Park | De Soto, Missouri

Explore Washington State Park's Rich History

Being near the Big River makes Washington State Park great for float trips & fishing and the swimming pool is a relaxing break from the summer heat. Hikers can explore our three scenic hiking trails. Buildings constructed by African American Civilian Conservation Corps stonemasons complement the park and add to its sense of history.

What Washington State Park is perhaps best known as having been the location of prehistoric ceremonies associated with the American Indian culture that archaeologists call Mississippian. Petroglyphs, or rock carvings, remain as evidence of their beliefs, and give clues to understanding the lives of these people who are believed to have inhabited the area around A.D. 1000. The park contains the largest group of petroglyphs yet discovered in Missouri. Because of the number and exceptional quality of the carvings, these sites were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The main petroglyph site is near the north entrance to the park and across Highway 104 from the road to Shelter #1/CCC Ridge Shelter. This site features wooden benches and an informative kiosk at the beginning of a level paved pathway that leads to the petroglyphs. A very short walk leads to an open, covered shelter and a wooden observation deck for viewing the petroglyphs below. Overhanging interpretive panels provide information on the site.

The small petroglyph site is near the north entrance to the park next to the interpretive center. There is a small flagstone pathway to a wooden observation deck to view these petroglyphs and an interpretive panel.

The petroglyphs are culturally significant. Visitors are asked not to damage, deface, litter or collect from these areas. Please stay on designated walkways and do not step or walk on the petroglyphs. The accompanying glade next to the main petroglyph site is an important natural area. Do not carve, destroy or deface the flora or stone in this area.

Guided Petroglyph tours are offered by park interpretive staff regularly from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at the main petroglyph site. Guided tours may also be requested by calling the park office. For more information on interpretive programs at Washington State Park, click here.

The petroglyphs are not Washington State Park’s only claim to masterful craftsmanship in stone. After the initial portion of land was donated to the state for a park in 1932, Company 1743, an African American company of the Civilian Conservation Corps, began to develop the area. They were inspired by American Indian petroglyph symbols in the area, naming their barracks “Camp Thunderbird.” Company 1743 built a stone dining lodge, carving an American Indian thunderbird symbol into its stone chimney and creating handmade iron door hinges. The building, known as Thunderbird Lodge, now serves as a convenience store and the cabin/watercraft/float trip check-in location. The stonemasons also did extensive roadside work, laid stone for what is known as the 1,000 Steps Trail, and worked on 14 buildings, including an octagonal lookout shelter of interesting rustic design. The exceptional quality of their craftsmanship in stone earned them high praise in the National Register of Historic Places’ citation for the park.