Vol. IX, No. 1, 1996

Hollister-on-the-White-River: Its Golden Years

by Donald R. Holliday

Hollister, Missouri, which boasted of being the only incorporated town in all of Taney County as late as 1912, was until the coming of the railroad and Powersite Dam the principal town of west-em Taney County. Hollister's trading area was rich timber country, rich not only in oak which covered all the White River hills, but in pine and cedar as well. It also included prosperous agricultural land, including White River bottoms inside the River's loop out of and back into Arkansas, Long Creek valley as far south as Denver, Arkansas, and large "big bench" area which stretched from Hollister to the Snapp Balds near Kirbyville and near the head of Bee Creek above Mincy. It was located on White River, a major though seasonal thoroughfare, and a trade barrier to almost everything coming from north of the White River loop. Hollister was also near enough the Springfield-Harrison wagon road, one of three main ones between Springfield, Missouri and North Arkansas, to provide access to markets.

Before 1904, when the Missouri Pacific Railroad bridged the White River at the mouth of Turkey  Taney County. After 1904, the railroad brought heretofore undreamed of prosperity to the little town. It became a transportation center also, and the railroad itself laid out plans for turning Hollister into a resort town. In 1911, the construction began on Powersite Dam, the "big dam" to the citizens of Taney County.

Such dreams the citizens of Hollister and their railroad and power-company allies then dreamed Hollister would become--the predominate regional center for agricultural production and processing, for recreation, for power production, even for planning of Ozarks futures.

White River Alluvium.
Missouri Pacific's Showplace Depot at Hollister.


The railroad brought all kinds of people to share in Hollister's promising future. One was an editor and publisher whose coming in 1911 to publish the Hollister News was part of the boom. He reveals in weekly articles the story of Hollister's golden years. Others came to run the railroad, and all the businesses a railroad made possible; others came to build a dam: investors, orchardmen, merchants, entertainers, speculators, engineers, laborers, tradesmen, cattle and hog farmers, horse ranchers, charlatons--all the people it takes to turn a thriving trade center into a booming little city--with dreams and plans for being "the pleasure center of the Ozarks." Capital poured in, perhaps even in amounts necessary to turn into reality the grand dream of Hollister's Commercial Club. Alas, however, the prosperity and grand dreams the railroad brought to "Hollister-on-the-White-River," the big dam brought to Branson and Pedrow, the latter of which became Rockaway Beach. In time, they succeeded Hollister's both as commercial center and "pleasure resort of the Ozarks." In 1915, the Hollister News itself ceased publication--perhaps the most telling story of all those pointing to Hollister's decline.

Between December of 1911 and March, 1912, the assets of the Bank of Hollister increased by 35 percent. No doubt, a part of that capital came from men such A month earlier, the citizens of Hollister also had approved a bond issue to build and "macadamize" the Hollister-Kirbyville road (December, 1911), the city's link to the old Springfield-Harrison Road. The latter road was still the major thoroughfare in Taney County and the road by which shippers and receivers of freight north, south, and east of Hollister reached the railroad. Boosters immediately agitated the town to gravel its streets and sidewalks and "keep progress flowing, like the Hollister-Kirbyville turnpike," and on January 15th, the city council resolved to gravel Front Street (now Downing), on January 22nd passed Ordinance 16 to "curb, gravel, and macadamize streets," and on February 5th let a contract to gravel Front Street.

Also at that meeting the council approved Ordinance 15--the licensing of billiard and pool tables at $2.50 per table per six months, apparently a policing necessity in the little boom town. A March 22, 1912 News article proudly, even reverently, announced the building of the "Electric Road"--an electric transmission line--from Powersite Dam to Springfield and Joplin, Missouri would be a reality. Only two weeks later (April 5th), Hollister representatives had appealed to the William H. Johnson Company of Springfield, builders of the big dam, to provide electric service to the city. A week later the council had granted the W.H. Johnson Company a franchise to install a lighting system. News editor Forbes commented (January 19,1912) on the growth of Hollister's population and extoled the quality of the new immigrants. "Since we came to Hollister on White River 12 months ago," he said, 47 families had moved to the town. He also enumerated new and expanded business. A millinery store, Tryer's Department Store, a meat and ice market, another blacksmith shop, a pool hall, the White River Cafe and Boarding House, a drug store, and a bank had opened. Jennings' Store had remodeled and enlarged its Hollister store and bought out and continued to run the store at Melva, a hamlet two miles south. Two new 1 business buildings, including the Olson Lumber Company's two-story office building and meeting hall, had been built or contracted.

Powersite dam under Construction


Hollister's little boom was the immediate result of the railroad's coming, for two reasons. The Missouri-Pacific Railroad itself had expansive plans for Hollister to become the first and predominant center of Ozarks recreation; the railroad also sought to make all of western Taney County a large-scale agricultural and timber producer. In this they succeeded, at least for a time.

The William H. Johnson Timber and Realty Company, as agent for the Missouri-Pacific, in a near one-half page ad (Dec. 8, 1911) declared "Hollister [has been] chosen by the Missouri Pacific system as the Pleasure Resort of the Ozarks.... [The city is] traversed by Turkey Creek, a beautiful, clear stream that forms the central idea of a comprehensive Park System now being worked out by the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company under the direction of J.S. Butterfield, their landscape engineer."

Developers responded quickly to the railroad's promotion of the "Pleasure Resort of the Ozarks." Vallemont Vineyards planted grapes over 100 acres, all platted in one-acre lots, and advertised the lots as sites for vacation homes where "families can vacation at no expense," because "present grape growers have cleared from $200 to $500 per acre" (December 1, 1911). Later, Vallemont announced the same 100 acres would be platted and landscaped as a country club. The Johnson Timber and Realty Company developed the bluffs overlooking the mouth of Turkey Creek in sites for vacation homes. Both the Y.M.C.A. and Presbyterian authorities expanded their summer camp and retreat facilities. Plans for a"business block" containing The English Inn, a resort hotel, were announced on February 9th and shown on February 16, 1912, and The English Inn Cafe advertised its opening barely two months later (April 12). The Missouri Pacific announced it would elaborately landscape its depot grounds (May 1, 1912). Jennings' Store and Tryer's Department Store and others began weekly advertisements of fishing supplies. Advertisements for"Mullins Steel Boats" appeared weekly beginning June 14th, 1912. Power boat excursions from Hollister to "Powersite," a new town site with cabins and recreational facilities, developed by the William H. Johnson Company, were first to advertise on September 6th.

The English Inn, constructed 1912
The Boom Time Boarding House


The most flamboyant presence in Hollister's early recreational industry was Dr. Otto Kohler. His first mention in the News, February 2nd, 1912, proclaims he will erect a large building "for the demonstration of his celebrated Physical Education, of which he is the originator." A week later "Professor" Kohler is further introduced as "an athlete and physical director conceded by the press and world-renowned athletes to be the finest formed man in the United States. He made his first appearance before the public as a Graeca-Roman wrestler with P.T. Barnum. He is sought by artists as a model and has posed for several great painters." Four weeks later the professor's next undertaking is advertised: "Professor Kohler's Park, with merry-go-round, swings, shooting gallery, etc." solicits "a man with small capital to run [the park]." In the same issue (March 8), in the first of his weekly columns, which ran for the remaining duration of the News, Professor Kohler challenges the Commercial Club to improve the city with street lights, stone walls, planked and graveled sidewalks. The Professor's enterprises included the sale of lots in his subdivision, also advertised weekly, which he kicked off by the raffling of two lots at twenty-five cents per chance. In both his columns--free self advertisements !--and his paid advertisements, Professor Kohler expressed disdain for town leaders and their ways of running the town, to the point of implying an invitation to physical combat.

If response was great to Hollister's early recreational opportunities, response to its agricultural promise was greater. The first issue of the News (December, 1911) reports the arrival of two railroad cars [full] From 1912 through 1914, the News was largely a farmers' chronicle, especially for fruit growers. Dr. Achilles Davis of Chicago arrived on January 5th of 1912 to survey his holdings at the Fairview Fruit and Stock Company, a 600 acre holding, and (January 26th) announced his establishment of the Ridgedale Orchards of Hollister, an 800 acre development to be planted immediately in 12,000 peach and apple trees and 30,000 grapes. Managers on both farms came from Fondu Lac, Wisconsin. The same issue mentions "big Perry orchards."

The News reported continuous plantings in 1912:

--J. W. McGee finished setting ten acres of grapes for C.L. Cramer of Gallatin, Missouri, with ten acres more planned. (January 19)

--Fairview Orchards set 4,000 grapes this week; Pratt 1,500 grapes and 75 apples. (March 29)

--J.M. Holliday set out 5,551 grapes, 100 pecans, plus ten acres grapes for J.G. Graybeal. (April 5. [Ambiguity News '])

--Fairview putting in 10,000 grapes, Davis 1,000 and peaches and pears. (April 12)

The 1912 season enjoyed a good harvest. Carloads of strawberry boxes arrived at the Hollister Depot, one carload for the Melva orchards alone, in March, two months before the anticipated strawberry harvest. Ads for strawberry pickers began May 17th. Fruit growers' associations ran advertisements in the July 19th and 26th issues for "The First Annual Farm Products Display and Grape Carnival" on the 9th and 10th of August at "Hollister-on-the-White-River," and a news item on August 16th announced the display and carnival a great success. During the autumns of 1912, 1913, and 1914, the News reported carload after carload of grapes and other fruit being shipped from the Hollister Depot, with the majority being picked up at the Melva siding, the closest shipping point for Pinetop, Ridgedale, and Melva orchards. In August of 1912, the Hollister Fruit and Grape Juice Company was formed.

Downing Street.


The cattle and timber business around Hollister also benefitted from the railroad. Some noteworthy "Depot Notes" and news stories in the News, and their dates, include:

--Carload of corn for Ridgedale farm (January 12, 1912)

--Carload of oil-meal cake to Long Creek farm (same date)

--Carload of oil-meal cake to Oasis farm (same date)

--Walter Belt feeding out 285 steers (same date)

--R.H. Pruitt, Pinetop, received carload of cotton-seed hulls and cake (January 26, 1912)

--Shanklin brothers of Kansas City purchased 2 40 acres near Melva and are fencing it with hog-tight fence. They have 100 brood sows now and plan many more (February 2) --Shipped two cars of oak lumber (February 2, 1912) --Shipped two carloads wood (for Springfield) and five car loads cedar posts (March 22, 1912)

The Hollister Feed Mill was reported established on March 29th of that year and apparently handled large feed orders after that date.

The coming of the railroad and "the big dam" to Hollister-on-the-White-River did not end the expansive dreams of great development for the area. Investors and promoters talked of far larger projects than a pleasure resort on Turkey Creek or fruit-growing combines. From 1912 through the News' demise in 1915 of far greater dams on the White River than Powersite were forecast---one at Cotter, Arkansas and one at Virgin Bluff on the James Fork of the White River. Missouri-Pacific and power company officials held a conference at Hollister (April 26, 1912) to discuss the possibilities of processing locally the 80,000 bales of cotton shipped from Hollister each year, using the electrical power now available. A May 3rd, 1912 article discussed the great industrial future of the Ozarks due to its potential for hydroelectric power. These dreams, some of them, would come to fruition in the 1950s. The two anticipated dams were finally built. The first would not be built at Cotter, Arkansas, but near there; it was completed in 1952 to form Bull Shoals Lake. The second was not built at Virgin Bluff on the James, but on the White at the very western edge of Taney County; it was completed in 1957 to form Table Rock Lake. Both Bull Shoals and Table Rock would detract from Hollister as a "pleasure resort" and dramatically change the economic base of Taney County from agriculture to recreation.

Ironically, Powersite Dam, to which Hollister boosters and speculators looked with pride and expectation, would bring a more immediate end to Hollister's big dreams than the bigger dams. The big 1913 dam at Powersite, very small compared to either Bull Shoals or Table Rock, was large enough to create Lake Taneycomo and turn lowly Pedrow into Rockaway Beach. Rockaway, rather than Hollister, was the pleasure resort of the Ozarks until the 1950s. When Table Rock was developed, Branson--which the News of September 6, 1912 had reported burned to the ground--began its rise, at first slow and then later meteoric, to be the primary pleasure resort of the Ozarks. So completely has Branson overshadowed Hollister, its just-across-the-White neighbor, the official state map of Missouri cites Branson as the address of Table Rock State Park; the park actually lies on the western edge of Hollister's old trading area, miles from Branson's nearest city limit.

[Data drawn principally from the 1874 fifth edition of Campbell's New Atlas of Missouri, the 1907 United States Geologic Surveys of Greene, Christian, Taney, and Stone Counties, from federal census records, and from the Hollister News, published from December first, 1911 through most of 1915.]
The Church, overlooking Downing Street.
Photos from COS (Center for Ozarks Studies)


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