Vol. IX, No. 4, 1996


Down by the Riverside

by Jamie Cox



Erecting a saloon was an extraordinary thing to happen in rural Christian County, Missouri, during the 1920's, and extraordinary things didn't happen on the banks of the Finley River, not around Ozark, Missouri. Corn was grown, potatoes were dug, cattle were raised. Oh, some Baldknobbers were hanged once on the courthouse square, but that was too far back in history to mean much. And, yes, occasionally the river rose, and year before last, Ed Ellis's piebald mare had had twin fillies. Such events created quite a stir about town, but to a youngster like Gratz Anderson, those were nothing compared to the commotion of building a saloon.

Gratz Anderson, like everyone else in Ozark, had to see this new addition for himself. So, on a clear, breezy evening in 1923, at the spry young age of seventeen, he did just that. Hitching his bay mule to his yellow-wheeled wagon, he headed down the gravel trail along the Finley River to the talk of the town--The Riverside Restaurant. "I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to build a restaurant out in the woods," said Gratz. Gratz had heard that a man from Billings, Missouri, by the name of Howard Garrison had moved to Christian County, purchased five acres, and wanted to build a saloon. "I went the night it opened and met ole Howard. We became friends pretty easily. He was a nice fella."

The restaurant and its sometimes controversial, but always lively, owner Howard Garrison has given Ozark plenty to talk about ever since. Legend has it that Garrison was running from something in his past when he moved to Ozark. Townsfolk said he had something to hide. Whispers about his past surfaced, and some people, even now, said that he made a lot of money while he was away from his family. Where he went during that four-year time away, how he made his money, or what he was hiding was left up to the gossips around the courthouse and the barber shop. "He was good at keeping secrets," Gratz said. "Even when Howard got married, he ended up running [his wife off because he didn't like her getting into his business. He said she was nosy." Gratz quickly put to rest the rumor that Howard learned to paint while in jail. He will tell you that Howard knew how to paint long before he served any time in the reformatory. "Anyone who went to the Riverside knew how well Howard could paint. He didn't like selling his paintings. Most of them stayed with him." Gratz explained that Howard learned how to do ceramics while he was in jail. "But as far as painting goes, he taught the other inmates." Gratz pointed to a painting on his living room wall. "That's one of Garrison's. Back when my wife and 1 owned a hardware store, Howard couldn't seem to come up with the money to pay a bill, so he told us to take a painting. My wife picked out that one." The painting Gratz refers to is in impressionistic style pieced together with soft, brown, horizontal strokes forming a log cabin on a dreary autumn day. "My wife was born in a log cabin, and the picture reminded her of that place."

Old Riverside.
Photos and illustrations provided by Scottie L. Snider, Ozark, MO.

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Gratz Anderson's memory provides details where second hand tales and legends fail. He and his wife Grace are among the few who can recall Howard as a friend and remember the restaurant's earliest days. "When Howard Garrison first opened the restaurant, it only seated thirty customers and he didn't serve alcohol. I've wondered," Gratz speculated, "if maybe Howard felt pressured to make more money to take care of all of his siblings. His father and brother had a saloon in Billings, but they were shut down." Gratz remembers the way Howard Garrison wanted to live. "He wanted to paint in the daytime and socialize at night. That's exactly what he did, too." Gratz made it clear that Garrison was a generous man. Too generous for anyone who knew him to want to see him go to a reformatory. "Howard and Mary, the cook, were good people--decent, kind people."

Gratz reminisced about the first time the Finley River swept through the floors and washed through the building, wiping away so much of the life Howard's art brought to the saloon. "I had to carry Mary out of the place. Water was knee deep, and she didn't want to leave behind her kitchen. That place meant everything to her." This was the first flood that forced the Riverside to close its doors.

During prohibition, the word Riverside was rarely used without "notorious" preceding it. Upon reporting the arrest of Howard Garrison, the March 7th, 1929 edition of the Springfield Leader described the restaurant as "a picturesque little capital of Bohemia where the dregs and the cream of society have been wont to mingle to toss off worldly cares." Three months later the restaurant's reputation showed no sign of improvement as it was referred to as "a rendezvous for the wilder element of Springfield's younger generation" (June 20th, 1929). Gratz was there the night Howard Garrison was arrested for bootlegging. The March 7th, 1929 edition of the Leader reports a dramatic account of the arrest:

Howard Garrison draws a chalk pastel portrait. 1970.

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It was a rather quiet hour at Riverside when the raiders came. Four men, who proved to be government officers, sat at a table in one corner of the central room which is given over to dancing and dining and playing cards. A large car drove up to the entrance. In it sat two men and all attractive girl. Soon the artist who had turned bootlegger approached the car with a tray upon which enticing glasses tinkled with ice. He passed the tray through the window of the car to the man who had waited patiently in the shadows. "Mr. Garrison," said the man who, with the girl, had placed the order. "Meet Mr. Vandeventer, United States District Attorney." Garrison flushed crimson as he stare-mere& "Yes, Mr. Vandeventer, you knew my father." "And the young lady," said the man bowing to her, "is Miss Lulu La Roche. Miss Roche is a narcotics agent of the United States Secret Service. She and the man have been in Springfield for more than two months investigating liquor conditions."

Garrison served two years in the Sherman Reformatory in Chillicothe, because he wouldn't reveal the name of his bootlegging conspirators. I found a note tucked away in a Garrison family scrap book which said, "Sam Goldstein from Kansas City provided Howard with the machines and alcohol." I started to mention this to Gratz, but he said Goldstein's name before I got the words out. "Oh yeah," Gratz laughed. "Everyone knew the alcohol and slot machines were coming from that fella up in Kansas City, but if Howard wasn't going to tell the authorities his source, no one else would either. Besides I think everyone was a little bit afraid of Goldstein. He didn't come down very often, but when he did you knew he was in the room and he never talked to anyone."

According to Gratz, upon returning to his restaurant and home after serving a two year sentence, Howard walked into the Riverside only to find the couple to whom he had leased the business in a drunken stupor. Gratz laughed. "He took over again right then!"

In the first fifteen years of its rocky but persistent existence, the Riverside had survived the fist of the law on its front door and the fury of the Finley River at its back, and still loyal customers, like Gratz Anderson, kept making their way down that country road to toss off their worldly cares. So it is not surprising to know that Gratz courted his future bride at the Riverside Restaurant.

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In 1938, Gratz met a beautiful young woman appropriately named Grace. By this time Gratz was no longer a curious teenage boy but a bachelor of almost 32 years. "1 wanted to take her to the finest night out around." Like a gentleman he escorted Grace into the passenger seat of his Model A Ford, then strolled confidently around the rear of the automobile, climbed into the driver's seat, and headed down that Christian county road to the Riverside Restaurant. Gratz sported a dark blue suit and tie. Grace wore a pink dress with lace trim. This was Grace's first time out to Ozark's unique gathering place between the woods and the river, and her date took pleasure in introducing her to a dining room and dance hall of exuberant rococo decorations, surrounded by walls of impressionistic artwork and brilliant colors. Gratz and Grace ate the traditional fried chicken and fritters, and when the sounds of a grand piano accompanied by violins and guitars took over the room, Grace accompanied Gratz's lead on the dance floor.

"1 loved it," said Grace as she remembered that first night at Riverside. "Most of all I loved the food. It was delicious. 1 got a huge platter of chicken piled so high 1 couldn't imagine eating it all, and the fritters--corn fritters, pineapple fritters--it was all good. Back then there wasn't as much of a choice on the menu. There wasn't even a menu! But you were sure to like what was served." To hear Grace recall her first visit to the Riverside, I found it difficult to imagine the same restaurant as it looked through Gratz and Grace's collective memory, seven years earlier.

The couple talked of the dance club they joined. "Once a month we went to the Riverside to eat and dance. We called ourselves the Ozark Supper Club. There were thirty of us." Gratz and Grace danced into the dawn to Benny Goodman and Hank Williams tunes. They did the jitterbug and the big apple. And a Saturday night wasn't complete without the beer-barrel polka. "We sang along to tunes like "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Walkin' the Floor Over You," Gratz recalled. "Don't forget 'Playmates,'" added Grace."Howard kept adding on rooms and more people kept coming. I think his motivation to add on rooms was due more to his desire to have new walls to paint than it was to accommodate the growing number of customers," she laughed. Eventually the crowd frequenting the Riverside was so large that the Ozark Supper Club decided to meet in each other's homes. "We still had fun, but we didn't get dressed up like we would for the Riverside, and there was no grand piano," said Grace.

Almost imperceptibly, over a period of years, the Riverside became more a place for dining and less place for those with a taste to dance the big apple, but Grace's comment did seem to mark a beginning to the end to the restaurant as a dance club. Over time, with more rooms added on, people began having banquets and wedding receptions. Grace's most memorable day at the Riverside was when Senator Harry Truman came to town and had lunch with her and other Democratic volunteers from the area. "He was so charming and thoughtful. There was a lot of talk about him running for Vice President at the time, and I remember thinking that he would probably be President someday."

Over a span of seventy years the Riverside changed from a place the Springfield Leader could label, presumably accurately, a "bohemian" saloon to a setting charming, and formal, enough for Harry S. Truman. It is now popular for wedding parties and family reunions, senior banquets and reunions of the 541 Bomber Wing. It isn't that the Riverside itself has changed. The name has always remained the same, the menu is virtually the same as it was when Garrison opened the doors in 1923, and the rococo decor and impressionistic paintings still set the stage for both an elegant and festive evening. Society and laws have changed. The way people viewed the restaurant changed. Howard Garrison never changed. He never compromised the way he wanted to live. Because of him, Ozark, Missouri is a little more accustomed to the extraordinary. Mostly the same rural routine unrolls the days and years, but having been the home of a most unusual artist and bootlegger, saloon and gathering place for beautiful and powerful people, Ozark and the banks of the Finley are a little broader now. The people have the Riverside and the memory of their beloved artist to remind them that the extraordinary is only one person and one idea away.

Howard Garrison and Family, after his more adventurous days
Jamie Cox, recent MA in English graduate of SMSU, lives and works in St. Louis.

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