Volume 6, Number 11, Spring 1979
The program f or the event read, "In Recognition of the Outstanding Significance," and it was indeed a day of outstanding significance to the White River Valley Historical Society and to all people with ties to one of the regions most unusual communities--Hollister, in Taney County, Missouri. The event took place on Saturday afternoon, March 31, 1979, and the occasion was the official recognition of Hollisters Downing Street Historic District new listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Even capricious Mother Nature seemed to appreciate the importance of the outdoor program, offering a few hours of respite from a weekend of thundershowers.
Several hundred people gathered around the nearly seventy year old railroad depot for the program wherein the Honorable Gene Taylor, Missouris 7th District Representative in Congress, was to make the presentation of the plaque recognizing the National Registry designation. There was special significance in the choice of the depot, built in the stone, stucco and half-timbered English style that distinguishes the historic buildings of the district, as the site for the plaque presentation.
In granting the listing in the National Register of Historic Places, officials considered Hollisters vital role in the economy of the southwestern Missouri Ozarks, a region in which tourism has risen to top position as an industry. Hollister was the first tourist center in the Ozarks, not by chance but through the determined efforts of some of its citizens and developers.
The community began as a single crossroads store, operated by Reuben Kirkham and his family in the first years of the twentieth century. Kirkham had lived in Hollister, California, and when in 1904 he applied for a post office to function from his store, he designated it as Hollister, named for the California town because of some resemblance in the hilly terrain.
At this time, a railroad was under construction to connect this remote area so lacking in land transportation with major cities. A surge of population growth resulted from new income prospects. The first was in the sale of railroad ties cut from the ample timber lands, and sold at twenty cents per tie to the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Missouri Pacific. Furthermore, there were prospects for employment as laborers on the construction of the line. Thus, from the time of the villages infancy, the railroad was an important factor in Hollisters development
William H. Johnson, a Springfield and Forsyth lawyer-turned-real estate- developer, saw the potential in the location of Hollister along the planned route of the railroad and in a setting of natural beauty in the valley of Turkey Creek just above its confluence with the White River. Another factor of promise in 1904 was the choice of a site on a bluff overlooking the river just a mile or two west of Hollister by a group of St. Louis sportsmen for a hunting and fishing lodge.
These gentlemen were also influenced by the coming of the railroad in their decision. The timing coincided with the closing of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. The sportsmen purchased the building in which the state of Maine had its Fair exhibits, a sprawling structure of spruce logs cut in the forests of Maine. The disassembled building was shipped to rails end, then at Branson, and hauled by wagon to the Maine Club, as it became known, on the present site of The School of the Ozarks.
Mr. Johnson purchased the tract of land that included the tiny Hollister settlement, plus more of the Turkey Creek valley land, all of the original homestead lands of Hollisters pioneering settler, Malinda Fortner. He filed a town plat in 1906, five months after the first railroad train reached Hollister. A boxcar on a siding served as a depot for the town that at the time had about 250 residents.
But there was little to distinguish the village from any other western cattle town, especially to those who viewed the towns from the passenger cars of the railroad trains. Giving much thought to the impression these passengers would receive and the effect the view
from the train could have on a person's decision to return, Johnson conceived the idea of making a major change in his original plan. With buildings facing Broadway (now the alley), all the passengers saw were backyards. He would open a new street facing the railroad and convince current business owners that it would be to their ultimate advantage to add new "fronts to their buildings at the rear, thus in effect turning them around.
There was already a scheduled stop at Hollister for the convenience of Maine Club patrons, for loading of cattle and other produce on some trains, and for passengers to make a meal stop. For a meal, many travelers climbed the slope to the west to a new three story building of logs, appropriately named "The Log Cabin Hotel." Johnsons fertile mind envisioned an influx of people too great for one hotel to handle if Hollister became a place of beauty. With the help of an architect, he planned the start of a street of English style buildings, with a depot in the same style. The idea was practical, for water-washed stone was to be had for the hauling from Turkey Creek, lime for stuccoing was available, and rough timers could come from area woodlands.
Soon a little bank building was completed and work started on a small hotel just to the north. The depot, built with the cooperation of the railroad, was ready in January, 1910.
The Missouri Pacific Railroads landscaper was sent to beautify the right-of-way. Soon there were rock retaining walls, steps and walls, and plantings of trees, shrubs, flowers and grass.
Accommodations for vacationers increased. Johnson had opened a camp on the west bank of Turkey Creek, with platform tent shelters. Other such camps opened, including a Y.M.C.A. camp that attracted people from a large region. On the bluff to the east, there was a big frame building and many cottages. This was the Presbyterian Assembly, where Chautauqua programs attracted additional visitors. The idea of Hollister as a tourist center mushroomed, and soon there were other camps, restaurants and tourist- related businesses.
And so, through creative ideas and followup action on the part of a few individuals, Hollister became a mecca for travelers and vacationers. The construction of Empire Dam a few miles down White River created Lake Taneycomo in 1913, adding to the area attractions. When more tourists began to use the automobile for travel instead of the railroad, a major highway was marked, going through Hollister via Front Street. (In this one aspect--the naming of streets--Johnson failed to use his imagination and followed the custom of most cattle towns.) At the south end of the block, Where Weavers now stands, the highway route was to the south via a street level crossing of the railroad tracks.
In the late twenties and through most of the thirties, the city of Hollister prospered, but a problem with all too frequent spring floods was growing ever more serious. The federal government postponed repeatedly, through two world wars and a depression, the construction of the much needed flood control dam to be named Table Rock. A decline was evident, and when a new highway built late in the 30s by-passed Front Street (re-named Downing in the 1960s by instigation of another of Hollisters promoters, Elijah C. Kirtley), at the same time that people were feeling the pinch of the Great Depression, the downhill slide had taken over. World War II came next, with gas rationing keeping tourists at home.
When Ye English Inn closed its doors in 1951, many people thought that was the towns death blow. But again there were individuals who would not let this happen. Table Rock Dam was at last to become a reality and some new businesses opened. Prime mover through these years when Hollister was threatened with extinction was Postmaster Jessalee Blankinship Nash, born in Hollister, daughter of the citys first mayor, and determined to rouse people to action to keep the town alive. And in the 60,s, with the danger of floods down to almost zero after the completion of Table Rock Dam in 1958, her tenacity was justified. The English Inn was remodeled, a bootstrap operation in which again individuals came forward to make it possible. New people, business and professional persons, took a chance on the Downing Street location despite its being off the main route.
Their courage and love of Hollister brought a new life and prosperity to Downing Street District, newest Ozarks entry in the National Register of Historic Places.
In the program on March 31, participants reviewed much of this story with added details, for there are many anecdotes and unusual aspects to the story of Hollister, from the problems in establishing law and order in the time of open range through the days of the annual Grape Carnival fostered by "Professor" Otto Kobler, another of Hollisters great promoters, to current happenings. One who told of Hollisters past was distinguished photographer and writer Townsend Godsey, one of Hollisters mayors in the days of flooding and much more recently retired from the staff of The School of the Ozarks. Another was Edith McCall, also a writer, and author of the story of Hollister in book form, English Village in the Ozarks. Dr. Howell W. Keeter, Chancellor of The School of the Ozarks, told of the strong ties between the School, which moved into the Maine Club building when the sportsmen offered it for sale at the time that the original School of the Ozarks building at Forsyth burned, in 1915. Since then, the relationship between Hollister and the campus personnel has been close. Dr. Keeter took the relationship back even farther, to the Maine Club days when lady guests riding muleback went to Hollister to enjoy ice cream at the drug store young Rolland B. (Pete) Kite, Jr. and William H. Johnsons son, William W., opened in Hollister before the English Village development.
The program was emceed by Dr. M. Graham Clark, President of The School of the Ozarks and a charter member and past president of the White River Valley Historical Society. Several local organizations participated in a variety of ways. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion posts of Branson-Hollister presented a flag in time-honored tradition, and the Hollister High School band opened and closed the formal program. Members of The School of the Ozarks Chapel Choir, directed by Dr. John Mizell, were seated in the portico behind the speakers. They surprised the audience with a rendition of Hollisters own song, the Ballad of Hollister, which was written by Shirley Hartman and adapted and arranged by Dr. Mizell. Dr. Mizell, accompanied by student, Paul Sanders, on the guitar, sang Dear Hearts and Gentle People in tribute to Jessalee Blankinship Nash. Boy Scouts aided in program distribution, and in the audience were other groups, such as the Girl Scouts, the Red Cross Volunteers, and the Estella Skaggs Hospital Auxiliary.
An individual of special note in the audience, the one who had come the greatest distance for the ceremony, was Mrs. Mydas Zeig of Missoula, Montana. She is the daughter of Mrs. Willard Kirkham Byam, now deceased, a Charter Member of the White River Valley Historical Society. Mrs. Zeigs interest in Hollister came through her mother, who was a small girl when her father was storekeeper and first postmaster of Hollister. Mrs. Byam was contacted when Mrs. Nash was planning the dedication of a new and larger post office for Hollister in 1960, an achievement in itself, for Hollister was only beginning the task of pulling itself up by its bootstraps at the time.
Also seated in the audience was Mrs. Rolland B. Kite, Jr., widow of the druggist who came with Will Johnson to open a drugstore in the town in its infancy, back in 1908. "Auntie Mae," as Mrs. Kite is fondly known, and her husband operated a drugstore in the English Inn building all through the years until Mr. Kites health failed in the 1940s. Mrs. Kite is now 94 years of age and living in the house she and her husband built on the hill west of the railroad in 1912.
As the formal program opened, all joined in singing America the Beautiful, chosen because the setting so well expresses the songs theme. An invocation was asked by Dr. Stuart Schimpf, faculty member of The School of the Ozarks and pastor of Hollister Presbyterian Church, itself a historic landmark, as it was constructed, mostly by labor of its members, in 1916 and still stands.
Mayor L. Max Hromek had several roles in the program. His first was to welcome the guests and members of the White River Valley Historical Society, to which the societys president, Mrs. Lucille A. Brown responded. Later, Mayor
Hromek accepted the plaques as representative of the city of Hollister. The first one was the official National Register of Historic Places designation, presented by Congressman, Taylor. Another was a copy of Missouri House Resolution #246, offering congratulations to the citizens of Hollister and to the WRVHS for their endeavors, and presented by Donald Gann, Representative in the Missouri Legislature for the 146th District. State Senator Emory Melton was also among the guests.
The program drew to a close still blessed by Mother Nature, although there were rumblings of thunder. Mrs. Steve Miller (Nadine) gave the benediction. She represented the Christian Science Society, which moved to Hollister from Branson in the mid-fifties to its present Downing Street location. The Societys building appears store-like from the outside, but inside is a lovely vaulted-ceilinged chapel, timbered like some of the other English style buildings. The honor would not have come to Hollister without the dedicated work over a period of four years by Viola Hartman, who, although not a resident of Hollister, took a special interest in the English Village and has written much about its early residents. She was the instigator and prime mover throughout the process of gaining national recognition for Hollister. In the long process, she worked first under the sponsorship of the Hollister Civic Club, a group of women of the city and its environs who did much over the years for civic improvement. However, this organization disbanded before the project was completed, and Mrs. Hartman, who, along with her husband Fred, is a Charter Member of the WRVHS, turned to the historical society with a request for sponsorship.
Since one of the societys stated objectives is the marking and preservation of historic sites, the sponsorship was accepted and work proceeded. Mrs. Hartman sought and received the cooperation of present property owners on Downing Street, old-time residents, and L. B. Graham, Hollisters City Engineer for more than twenty years. She also worked through the district representatives in state and federal government. First, approval had to be gained from the Department of Natural Resources,
State of Missouri. Then the filing of forms began all over again, this time to go to the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Department of the Interior, Washington, D. C. When approval finally came, Mrs. Ionamae Rebenstorf, Secretary-Treasurer of the White River Valley Historical Society, was asked to plan the March 31 program that brought together a number of notables and citizens from a wide area and of all ages.
Mrs. Hartmans startled exclamation evidenced her surprise when, at the close of her remarks of acknowledgement, she was presented with a gift by the people of Hollister, through Mayor Hromek. It was an engraved silver dish and tray. Undoubtedly it will become an heirloom and in the distant future years will prompt others to inquire, "What was special about Hollister?"
One answer may be that in being granted a place in the National Register of Historic Places, Hollisters "Downing Street District" achieved a "first". The register includes about 15,000 entries, mostly individual buildings or sites of events, but also including other "districts," such as Ste. Genevieve District and Arrow Rock District, each of which is among Missouris recognized historic places in the National Register. But officials considered Downing Street District unique in being a street of one architectural style and in its railroad-tourism relationship. The Districts selection should spur Hollister on to further development as the English Village in the Ozarks.
Congressman Taylor, in his remarks noted another distinction that should be cause for pride. He stressed that the creative ideas, the resourcefulness in using local materials, and the effort involved all came from the people themselves, without aid from the government of state or nation. Such use of resources typifies the spirit that built the United States of America. That it should not die is the hope of us all, and this dedication serves as a reminder of the determination to achievement that has been behind all progress. If Hollisters people go forward in that same spirit, no one will need to ask, "What is special about Hollister?" It will speak for itself!
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